What To Know About The Hundreds Of Doctors Who Died Facing The Pandemic

First responders put their lives on the line to save the lives of others when they rush into emergencies as everyone else tries to escape. During the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare professionals of all specialties and disciplines became the world's primary first responders in treating patients with COVID-19. The number of doctors who treated patients with COVID-19 and succumbed to death themselves from the virus early in the pandemic has been revealed in a recent 2023 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Prior knowledge informed that there were numerous deaths among physicians on the frontlines of the pandemic in the United States, but this new study spearheaded by a team from Stanford University has released data regarding excess mortality rates. Excess mortality is determined by comparing the number of deaths that occur during an event (such as the pandemic) and the number of deaths that would have occurred had that event not happened, per the American Medical Association. Specifically, the study determined excess mortality rates amongst physicians within the demographic of 45 to 84 years of age. The total number of deaths throughout the 21-month span from March 2020 to December 2021, was 4,511 — 622 more than expected.

Following the availability of vaccines to protect individuals against the coronavirus in April 2021, the number of physician deaths in direct association with COVID-19 began to drastically decrease. Older physicians faced the highest fatality rates on the front lines.

Details and considerations of COVID-19 physician fatalities

Researchers who conducted the new study in JAMA Internal Medicine noted that many physician deaths, particularly those who sought early retirement during the pandemic, have not been recorded and thus the total number of physician fatalities from COVID-19 is higher than the number the study published. Another potential limitation acknowledged by researchers is that the study looked primarily at physicians within an age bracket of 45 to 85 years old, and excluded younger physicians from the mortality count. While there was an increase in physician fatalities during the period of the study, especially in older physicians, the overall data found that physicians across the country experienced a lower excess mortality rate than the public did during the same period of time.

While there were many physicians treating patients with COVID-19 who ended up dying as a result of the virus, the toll taken on healthcare workers since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 has also been tremendous in numerous ways. The study emphasized that soaring stress and burnout during the pandemic worsened the overall well-being of physicians. According to Columbia University Irving Medical Center, healthcare professionals have been faced with working intensely stressful and long shifts treating patients in critical condition, and as a result, there has been a drastic rise in healthcare personnel experiencing mental health distress in the forms of anxiety, depression, burnout, difficulty sleeping, inability to cope with guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).