Staffing shortages, health care professional burnout and vaccine hostility are just a few of the challenges doctors are facing in today’s health climate, even in local areas like Conifer.

The 2021 Physicians Foundation’s “2021 Survey of America’s Physicians” found that 61% of physicians reported often experiencing feelings of burnout, increasing from 2018. 

Staffing shortages are one of the obstacles medical practices are currently facing across the board. Dr. Rob Sarché, who works in family practice at Conifer Medical Center, said burnout contributes to this problem.

“Staff is kind of tight, medicine is not an exception. A lot of people have left their medicine careers, people are getting burned out,” he said. 

Another concern about staffing comes from Dr. David Cohen, chief medical officer for Optum Colorado. He said staff are not safe from getting infected.

“Quite honestly, the biggest stress is actually how it is affecting our staff because as you know it’s highly contagious, and many of our staff are not immune despite being fully vaccinated,” Cohen said.

While the Omicron variant is highly contagious, neither doctor has seen any change in tune from those who previously refused the vaccine.

“Unfortunately it’s not changed much. I feel like a lot of our patients who took the limited info when the vax came out and decided it wasn’t right for them have continued to think it wasn’t right for them,” Sarché said.

At his previous job, Cohen saw people take their stance on vaccination to what could be considered an extreme.

“We literally had a 28-year-old pregnant woman. She died in our ICU, she wasn’t vaccinated during Delta, she died during Delta; we had to deliver her child before she died. Her husband wasn’t interested in vaccination,” he said. 

Sarché said sometimes patients get upset even discussing the vaccine with their doctor.

“Some patients are downright angry,” he said. “It sometimes is even a little bit painful.” 

Sarché recalled one interaction with a patient where he asked about the patient’s vaccination status and was then subjected to an anti-vaccination tirade, which resulted in him being called a “mindless sheep.”

As a result of situations like this, Sarché said some doctors have had enough. 

“Many providers are getting burnt out on trying to promote the vaccine,” Sarché said.

Over half of physicians reported feelings of anger, tearfulness or anxiety because of COVID-19, according to the “2021 Survey of America’s Physicians.” 

Still, Sarché worries about the health of the foothills community.

“Our community is substantially lower vaccinated compared to the Denver metro area. I’ve had days where up to one-third of my patients are unvaccinated,” he said. 

Both doctors agree that the best thing medical professionals can do right now is to keep going. 

“As a medical professional, we are uniquely privileged to have an impact on people’s lives. Whether we are in a pandemic … we will get through this, but we need to refocus on the fact that we are privileged to impact people’s lives,” Cohen said.

Sarché has a message for health care providers: “I feel we should not give up the good fight.”