How Doctors Are Coping With COVID-19

Verywell’s Medical Review Board is figuring it out, just like the rest of us.

Zoom call with Verywell Health Medical Review Board

For every precaution you’re taking and stressor you’re managing during these unprecedented times, you may find yourself wondering, “Am I handling this right?” Not only are you thinking about your physical health, but your mental health and the overall well-being of your family are important factors, too. There are no blanket answers for anything related to daily life and COVID-19. But for a better sense of perspective, we asked doctors what they are doing outside of the office.

Meet the Verywell Health Medical Review Board. In addition to reviewing our articles for accuracy and continuing to care for their patients, these board-certified and licensed physicians are navigating how to keep their own families safe and keep up with their own self-care. During a Zoom call with Verywell’s Rob Parisi (SVP and General Manager), Nicole Kwan (Associate Editorial Director), and Anisa Arsenault (Senior Editor), they offered a candid look into what their day-to-day looks like right now, as well as some general advice for readers. 

"You can never protect yourself 100% from any kind of risk. But we’re all trying to be as careful as we can." - Anju Goel, MD, MPH

How have you explained what’s going on to your own family and friends?

Huma Sheikh, MD (Neurologist, New York, NY): One of the difficulties for me has been explaining to people who are not in the medical field, like family members, why this is different from the flu. I think now, people are starting to catch on, but I’ve had to explain why it’s so much more infectious and that hospitalization and mortality rates are so much higher. This is the first time in my life where I’ve been scared to catch something from a patient. I think it’s important to convey to people who are not in the medical field that we’re scared to catch it, too.

Anisha Shah, MD (Cardiologist, Pittsburgh, PA): My family is not in the epicenter—we’re a good 400 miles away—so I think the perspective that we’ve adopted here is a greater good approach. I have a 16-year-old and it’s a common question: Why can’t I go out with my friends? My entire soccer season was canceled; why can’t we go kick the ball around? I explain you’re doing this for the people who are more susceptible. You may not be in that demographic, but one day you will be, and you would appreciate that same kind of consideration. It’s working—so far! That’s really the big thing: taking a more public "for everyone" approach rather than "for me."

How are you taking care of yourselves, both mentally and physically? 

Chris Vincent, MD (Family physician, Seattle, WA): I’ve been getting outdoors, walking, spending time with my wife and dog—just trying to get COVID-19 off my mind. It’s been a month of staying home, since we were the first epicenter, and one of the first states to impose social distancing and self-isolation. It’s been stressful, I admit it.

Anju Goel, MD, MPH (Internist and public health physician, San Francisco, CA): I discovered a great yoga app called Down Dog that has an endless number of routines that you can do on your own, anywhere. It’s really easy to follow and so much fun. 

Sheikh: You need time to not watch the news. Headspace is offering free subscriptions for healthcare workers. I’ve downloaded that and made it my routine. 

Priyanka Chugh, MD (Gastroenterologist, New York, NY): Something that’s working for me is watching a lot of the old rom-com movies. I’ve been watching Bollywood movies to just kind of relax and drift away in complete mindlessness. Separately, once a week, we do social distancing coffee sessions with my grandparents who live about three miles away. It gives us something to look forward to every Sunday. 

Meredith Bull, ND (Naturopathic doctor, Los Angeles, CA): Exercise has been a major thing for me, and I’ve been recommending that to friends, family, and a few of the patients I’m working with. I think working out is actually easier for some people to fit in than ever. We can work out when we want because things are available online. We don’t have a commute to a gym.

When you have to go out, are you wearing face masks? 

Chugh: I’m in New York City, where masks are mandatory, so I’ve been wearing a mask all the time. I’m still taking calls at the hospital, so I’m constantly going in and out of the house. It makes me feel as if I’m protecting my mother, since she’s been pretty generous helping us out with the kids.

Vincent: If we’re out walking and there’s tons of distance between ourselves and the next person, we don't wear masks. But if we’re anywhere where we might be within 10 feet of somebody else, we wear them. We’re being pretty careful about that. When I was at work last week, people were not wearing masks, mainly because they’re trying to conserve them for people that really needed them. We’re trying to screen patients and are asking some to wear masks, even if they don’t have symptoms. But overall, we’re mostly doing telehealth visits now.

Shah: Wearing a mask isn’t mandatory here, but there’s also a very high percentage of people who are above 60. So when I go out, I do wear a mask, and my kids do as well. I think as the weeks have progressed, I’ve seen more and more people wearing them. Last week, almost everyone was wearing a mask in the grocery store. 

Are you as apprehensive of grocery shopping as the rest of us?

Chugh: I do get a little nervous while going to the grocery store, especially when I see someone wearing scrubs. I’m always wondering, are they coming out of the hospital? Are they clean scrubs? What’s going on?! Since my grocery store aisles are still two-way, I try to get to the corner, let the other person pass, then walk into the aisle. Maybe that’s excessive, but I don’t know their whereabouts, and a lot of people in my grocery store still aren’t wearing masks.

Shah: I don’t think we are afraid, but our approach is a lot more targeted. We try to go to one place, once a week. Our grocery stores have taken protective measures like single entrance, single exit, staggered entrances, and one-way aisles. It does definitely make you think twice, though, when picking up stuff. I try to just take things that are bulk-packaged rather than touch multiple things. I’m more aware than I was before.

Bull: I think this is such a great opportunity to look at your local resources. I recently signed up for a CSA—community-supported agriculture—and the produce is absolutely beautiful. It got delivered right to my door so there was no interaction on my end. Honestly, it’s having me cook more, I’m eating more fruits and vegetables because of it.  

What do your sanitization habits look like? Is it over the top, for instance, to spray down a delivery box?

Jonathan B. Jassey, DO (Pediatrician, Bellmore, NY): My family opens deliveries outside and leaves the boxes—and bags from the store—inside the garage for a day or two. When I come home from work, I strip down, throw everything in the wash, and go straight to the shower. I recently bought a UV sanitation box to disinfect small things like my mask, my keys, and my phone. I usually have my phone on my hip during the day at work, so even though I’m fully protected, it's not. 

Goel: It makes sense to sanitize things as you come in from outdoors. I think once you’re inside, devoting a lot of energy to sanitizing surfaces in your home isn’t the best use of time. Sanitizing high-touch surfaces is more of an issue in public places and healthcare facilities—any place where you’ve got large numbers of new, different people moving in and out. It’s not so much an issue inside your home, because it’s you and your family members who are touching all of those surfaces, and you’re already all exposed to each other and breathing the same air.

Bull: I live with one other person and we put together a sanitizing station right by our entrance. We wipe down our phones and keys with alcohol swabs, and while they’re drying, we go wash our hands. Sometimes, I clean the inside doorknob, too. Those are the biggest changes I’ve made. As soon as I walk in and my hands are clean, I’m not worried about anything else I touch. 

Are you and other members of your household driving each other crazy? Have you found any upsides to isolation?

Goel: I’ve never spent so much time with my daughter, but now she has no choice. It’s me or nobody! We’ve been having nice long dinners and watching all kinds of shows on Netflix. It’s been really good bonding time, and I particularly appreciate it because this is the end. She’ll be going off to school really soon, assuming everything goes as expected with colleges in the fall. I would say that is the one silver lining with this. I’ve been hearing from other people as well that they’re having much more quality family time together.

Jassey: Having a family helps me be able to get my mind off medicine. Whether it’s watching a TV show or playing board games—which had become almost non-existent before this—family time helps you decompress.

What are some approaches for talking about COVID-19 with kids?

Jassey: While I think it really depends on the age group, honesty is key. Kids might not be reading newspapers and looking at news every day, but they are clearly hearing, especially from us as providers, how serious this is. And they notice there’s a lot more family time. I have three daughters—13, 11, and 7—so I understand the comprehension from a 13-year-old versus a 7-year-old is different. In my office, the younger patients might not understand why we are doing what we are doing, like wearing face masks. So we’re trying to make it a game to try not to scare them, by doing things like acting like superheroes.

David Ozeri, MD (Rheumatologist, Ramat Gan, Israel): I have a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a 5-year-old. I thought all the scheduling and not being able to spend time outside with their friends would be a major challenge. But I’m actually very surprised by how easy it was for them to adapt to their new schedule and restrictions. A bigger factor for them was the fact that I have to continue working through this. I think they see that I’m a little more tense. I’ve really had to communicate with them and let them know I’m taking the right precautions and that I’m careful. Overall, they definitely grasp the situation and understand that this is something unusual and something contagious.

Doru Paul, MD (Oncologist, New York, NY): I work at Weill Cornell Medicine, which is basically the epicenter of the epicenter. I have two kids, 10 and 16. One of the things I’m telling them is they should not go out too much and not meet up with their friends in order to protect their grandmother, who is 83 years old. I’m really trying to keep them as busy as possible so they don’t think too much about this situation. They’ve been asking me what’s going on and asking me to describe how the patients are. I give them some information, but I’m not going into details or telling any horror stories. I’m doing my best to maintain a positive mental state for them.

How would you encourage people to take protective measures like social distancing more seriously?   

Bull: For any adults at this time not taking things seriously, I think there’s probably two things at play: first, potentially not really understanding what’s going on, and second, a reaction stemming from a fear of change or a fear of loss of control. Approaching those individuals with that in mind, or having some amount of compassion and understanding can be helpful. Sometimes, though, people will not change the way they are functioning. At that point, I think energy is probably best spent on yourself instead of trying to change somebody’s actions. 

Vincent: I know that there’s a lot of pent-up pressure that people are feeling; they want to get out, they want to go back to life as normal. But I don’t think life is going to be “back to normal” for a long time. We’re just going to have to get used to being mindful of staying apart from each other and being careful to clean surfaces and wash our hands and not shake hands. Eventually, we will relax, and people will go back to these old habits. But I am concerned about doing it too quickly.

What else can people do to stay healthy? 

Goel: I would encourage patients who have non-essential visits that are canceled in-person to try to schedule those using telehealth. I’m concerned that non-essential problems could become essential problems if people neglect them for too long, particularly people who have chronic conditions like diabetes and need that ongoing support. So I really encourage people to continue accessing healthcare as they need it, but doing it in different ways, like not in-person to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

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