An examination of the impact of COVID‑19 on the mental health of Canadian medical residents

Phillips, Jennifer L | $101,540

Ontario University of Ottawa 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

Physicians working on the frontlines during the COVID‑19 pandemic are at high risk of experiencing burnout, depression, anxiety, and trauma. Burnout, experienced by more than 50% of medical trainees and practicing physicians under usual conditions, is a public health crisis that compromises patient safety through the provision of poorer quality of care. While initial studies have reported significant distress among healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19, few have examined medical trainees specifically, highlighting an important gap. As the pandemic has progressed in Canada, medical residents (trainee physicians) have expressed new concerns about practicing outside their scope, protecting their families, and fear for their personal safety. This study will use a novel approach to understand the mental health service needs of individuals undergoing medical residency during the pandemic and inform delivery of appropriate mitigation strategies. Using a comprehensive online survey we aim to better identify predictive factors associated with emergence of mental health symptoms in Canadian medical residents during the pandemic. We will apply an innovative artificial intelligence (AI)-based social media algorithm to retrospectively track mood and psychological distress status from residents’ social media posts to identify periods of worsening mental health. Finally, we will conduct qualitative interviews to permit in-depth exploration of mental health service use during the pandemic and perspectives on resident satisfaction with available services. We will examine all data through a sex and gender-based lens, as various biological and socio-cultural factors may be differentially associated with susceptibility and resilience to mental illness among residents. Findings will reveal the impact of the pandemic on medical resident mental health and its implications for Canadian medical education while informing service needs to minimize its effects on cohorts of new physicians.

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