Dr. David Carr
Dr. David Carr, a UHN Emergency physician, laments the departure of staff during the Omicron wave of the pandemic – "… when human capital is stretched – something has to give." (Photo: UHN)

With the Omicron Wave receding and March 11 marking the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, UHN News is asking TeamUHN members how they're doing, what they've learned, how they're coping and what the future looks like.

There's a lot of burnout, and nurses are being especially hard hit.

That's the Omicron-Wave lament of Dr. David Carr, a UHN Emergency physician.

"The challenge with this wave, which is very different than the other waves is, we've had tremendous absent staff based on illness and quarantines," explains Dr. Carr. "So when I come to work and there's​​ beds free and no patients in them because we're down nurses, we have a serious problem.

"That's been the biggest impact with this wave."

Yes, there's a pool of "casuals" and third-party outsourcing to fill gaps. But demand far exceeds supply. So, staff have been redeployed and nurses asked to take on extra shifts.

Pulse of UHN  

And there's the rub. Almost two years into the pandemic Dr. Carr says there's less capacity to take on more. Plus, when human capital is stretched, something has to give.

He's seen nurses converting to casual hours, retiring, and, leaving the profession.

"I can name five nurses that I know in Emergency Departments who are now real estate agents," says Dr. Carr. "Amazing nurses, seasoned veteran nurses … that's a tremendous loss."

Dr. Carr says the pandemic is exposing long known cracks in the healthcare system. Burnout in the nursing ranks being one of them.

"Clearly we have to advocate for our nurses who have been in a rough go, and the nursing profession will take longer to recover after the pandemic," he says.

A self-described promoter of positivity, Dr. Carr recognizes "people are pretty down … has it been as fun as normal? No. But, will I still try to find the rays of light that happen when the interesting patients come in? Sure."

Still, there are times even he gets down. Like when his Twitter feed blows up every time he advocates vaccination against COVID-19.

"If I say it's wonderful that Health Canada has approved Pfizer for children, I'm gonna have 100 people that I have to block who say I'm a Nazi," he says.

That's another lament. The abuse of people who work in healthcare.

"Many of us are insulted for advocating and that's the hardest part you know, like early on they were banging on pots and pans for us and we were heroes," explains Dr. Carr, "Now people don't hear our movie anymore. They don't care for us anymore.

"With that convoy some of us had police escorts to get safely in to work. That's hard for a lot of us to take."

Dr. Carr says luckily he's got a thick skin: "I've been a downtown Emergency physician for 20 years!"

But he never thought the pandemic would stay this long.

"It shows how little we know and how smart COVID is."

To stay positive, Dr. Carr reminds himself of the reason he got into healthcare.

"I love medicine. I always will," he says. "I know it will go back to being fun like it was once was and we'll all get through it because every pandemic ends."

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