The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has become one of the central health crises of a generation. The pandemic has affected people of all nations, continents, races, and socioeconomic groups. The responses required, such as quarantining of entire communities, closing of schools, social isolation, and shelter-in-place orders, have abruptly changed daily life.
Health care professionals of all types are caring for patients with this disease. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the severity of symptoms it can cause in a segment of infected individuals has acutely taxed the limits of health care systems. Although the potential shortage of ventilators and intensive care unit (ICU) beds necessary to care for the surge of critically ill patients has been well described, additional supplies and beds will not be helpful unless there is an adequate workforce.1,2
Maintaining an adequate health care workforce in this crisis requires not only an adequate number of physicians, nurses, advanced practice clinicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and other clinicians, but also maximizing the ability of each clinician to care for a high volume of patients. Given that surges in critically ill patients could last weeks to months, it is also essential that health care professionals be able to perform to their full potential over an extended time interval. At the same time they cope with the societal shifts and emotional stressors faced by all people, health care professionals face greater risk of exposure, extreme workloads, moral dilemmas, and a rapidly evolving practice environment that differs greatly from what they are familiar with.2-5
This Viewpoint summarizes key considerations for supporting the health care workforce so health care professionals are equipped to provide care for their patients and communities. Few of these considerations and suggestions have substantial evidence to support them; they are based on experience, direct requests from health care professionals, and common sense.