The anti-vaxxers who ‘gaslight’ medics are destroying the patient-doctor relationship in America, experts warn

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Medical staff in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit treat a patient on September 9, 2021 in Grants Pass, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty Images
  • Doctors who are receiving pushback from unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are burning out.
  • A hotline for physicians is seeing a surge in calls as many consider quitting the profession.
  • One emergency room doctor from Indiana told Insider he’s feeling increasingly “demoralized.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Anti-vaxxers who “gaslight” medics are destroying the patient and doctor relationship in America and pushing healthcare professionals to the brink of burnout, a mental health expert told Insider.

The Physician Support Line, founded by Philadelphia-area psychiatrist Mona Masood, has spoken with more than 3,000 doctors since March 2020 and says calls from all over the country have continued to increase over the last few weeks.

Masood told Insider that over the course of the pandemic, the atmosphere among healthcare workers has definitely shifted and many physicians are now experiencing “compassion fatigue” or losing empathy for the people they are taking care of.

“We went from being heroes to being villains,” she said. “People started doubting what we were suggesting and what we were doing. We were being gaslighted and were told that we had other motives. But all these accusations were just so surreal and so unfounded.”

Masood insists that it’s not about “us versus them” but says that COVID-19 has led to a visible breakdown of the patient and doctor relationship, which has been tremendously difficult for physicians who often feel guilty for not being able to help.

“It’s happening out of self-preservation. If people are going to throw enough rocks, you’re going to put up your hands, you’re going to defend and protect yourself,” Masood said.

Anti-vaxx placard

An emergency room doctor from southern Indiana told Insider that many of his colleagues are being pushed to the brink of mental exhaustion as hospitals continue to battle the highly contagious Delta variant.

Stephen Sample, who works at Jasper Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, said: “All of us are getting tired, especially when you get hit day after day with this stuff, and it’s just really demoralizing.”

“It sucks. I don’t know how to say it any other way,” he added. “I spend a lot of time creating very thought-out and long responses to people who are coming at me with bad intentions, trying to make me look stupid or trying to call me out.”

Some patients take it to the extreme. Sample told Insider of a colleague in Florida who recently dealt with an anti-vaxxer who had to be hospitalized after getting the coronavirus.

The man refused all of the treatments, signed a “do not resuscitate” order, and died convinced that COVID-19 was a hoax, Sample said.

More than one in five healthcare workers have considered leaving the workforce

Experts worry that mental fatigue could lead to a mass exodus among healthcare workers as the pandemic drags on.

More than one in five healthcare workers (21%) have at least moderately considered leaving the workforce and 30% have considered reducing hours because of COVID-19 stress, according to an April study in JAMA Network Open.

“It’s very hard for people even to say they want to leave after putting so much blood, tears, and sacrifice into this profession – years of their life and finances,” Masood said.

“But it is telling of a greater crisis. COVID is not the cause, COVID was just the last straw,” she added.

Sample is also aware of many colleagues – especially those nearing the end of their career – who are considering leaving the profession.

“There are, there are social media groups out there with physicians who are looking for side gigs, looking for ways to leverage their knowledge to go do something else,” he said.

“I promise you if I was if I was 56, and not 46, I’d be gone,” Sample added.

If you’re experiencing mental health problems as a healthcare professional, please call The Physician Hotline at 1 (888) 409-0141