Poll: Workplace Stigma, Fear of Professional Consequences Prevent Emergency Physicians from Seeking Mental Health Care

A poll from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and Morning Consult released on October 26, 2020 shows that despite the growing toll that serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic is having on emergency physicians, many are hesitant to seek mental health treatment. According to the poll, which was conducted among a national sampling of emergency physicians, stigma and fear of professional reprisal prevent health care workers from getting the mental health care they need. 

Download a poll infographic here and en español

Download the full poll analysis here.

More than eight in 10 (87 percent) of emergency physicians report feeling more stress since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, 72 percent report experiencing more burnout on the job. 

  • 83 percent of emergency physicians feel added stress due to concerns for their family, or friends around contracting COVID-19.
  • 80 percent cite concern for their own personal health and safety around contracting COVID-19.
  • 65 percent cite concerns for their job, financial security.
  • 60 percent are stressed because of lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Despite increased levels of stress and burnout, nearly half (45 percent) of the nation’s emergency physicians do not feel comfortable seeking mental health treatment.

When it comes to seeking mental health treatment, 73 percent of emergency physicians feel there is stigma in their workplace. Only 5 percent reported there is “no stigma at all” in their workplace.

Female, older, and rural emergency physicians report the highest level of stigma in their workplace.

  • 74 percent of female emergency physician report either “some” stigma or “a lot” of stigma in their workplace.
  • 77 percent of emergency physician over the age of 45 report either “some” stigma or “a lot” of stigma in their workplace.
  • 79 percent of emergency physician in rural communities report either “some” stigma or “a lot” of stigma in their workplace.

Nearly three in five emergency physicians (57 percent) report they would be concerned for their job if they were to seek mental health treatment.

  • Older and rural emergency physicians are the most concerned for their job if they were to seek mental health treatment (60 percent).

More than a quarter (27 percent) report they have avoided seeking mental health treatment in fear of professional repercussions.

  • This avoidance is most highly reported by female (33 percent) and younger emergency physicians (31 percent) and those working in rural communities (30 percent).

Emergency physicians who reported not seeking mental health treatments in fear of professional repercussions cited job security, professional stigma, and future job opportunities as reasons why.

  • “I felt concerned that my job would be in jeopardy or others would question my ability to do my job.”
  • “There are questions on medical license applications about if you’ve ever been treated for mental health. I don’t want to be perceived as unfit for duty.”
  • “I do not want to get diagnosed with a mental health condition then have to report it on job applications or medical licensing applications/renewals. I am afraid I would potentially lose my job, future job opportunities, license, and eligibility for disability insurance.”
  • “In medical school, I avoided treatment as I believed it would affect residency applications, licensing eligibility, etc.”
  • “I am concerned about reporting to state licensing boards and retaliatory actions taken by these boards.”
  • “[I] would have to declare on reappointment, explain and risk potential limits on practice.”
  • “I thought that if I sought treatment for ADHD/anxiety that it would make me a lesser candidate for EM positions.”

Click here to read more about what ACEP is doing to ensure policymakers, regulators and clinical leaders take appropriate steps so that emergency physicians and other health care providers can safely secure treatment for their mental health, or other health issues that do not affect patient care, without repercussions to licensing, credentialing, or future employment.

If you’re an emergency physician and want to share your experience, you can submit an anonymous story here.

This poll was conducted between October 7-October 13, 2020 among a national sample of 862 emergency physicians. The interviews were conducted online using ACEP’s provided member list. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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