The aim of this study was to investigate the association between a change in household support during the Covid-19 pandemic and surgeon stress.
The hours and unpredictability of surgical practice often necessitate the employment of household extenders (eg, child caregivers) to maintain a safe home environment for surgeons and their families. The Covid-19 pandemic destabilized these relationships and provided an opportunity to reflect on the role that household extenders play in a surgical household.
A multi-institutional telephone survey of surgeons practicing at five geographically diverse academic institutions was conducted (May 15, 2020–June 5, 2020). Surgeons were classified by change in household extenders (HE) during the pandemic (decrease, increase, no change, or none). The primary outcome was self-reported surgeon stress level. Multivariable linear regression was used to examine the relationship between change in HE and surgeon stress, adjusting for training and relationship status, the presence of pets and children in the household, and study site.
The majority (182, 54.3%) of surgeons employed HE before the pandemic; 121 (36.1%) reported a decrease in HE during the pandemic, 9 (2.7%) reported an increase, and 52 (15.5%) reported no change. Stress scores varied significantly by change in HE group (P = 0.016). After controlling for potential confounders, having an increase in HE was associated with a higher stress score (+1.55 points) than having no decrease in HE (P = 0.033), and having a decrease in HE was associated with a higher stress score (+0.96 points) than having no decrease (P = 0.004).
Household extenders play a vital and complex role in enabling the healthcare workforce to care of the population. Surgeons who experienced a change in household extenders reported the highest stress levels. We suggest that health systems should proactively support surgeons by supporting the household extender workforce.