ACEP COVID-19 Field Guide

Table of Contents

Burnout, Self-Care, and COVID-19 Exposure for First Responders

Personal Well-Being and Resilience

Signs of Burnout and Stress

First responders may experience burnout and secondary traumatic stress during prolonged exposure to emergencies: 

  • Burnout — feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed; and
  • Secondary traumatic stress — stress reactions and symptoms that result from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event. 

Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs. Selected signs are shown in Table 14.1.

Table 14.1 Signs of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.


For more information and the full list of signs, see “Emergency Responders: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself.”

Tips for First Responder Self-Care

Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. The CDC recommends:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Taking care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep; and avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time to unwind. Try to do other activities you enjoy.
  • Connecting with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. (This can be done while maintaining social distance.)

What to do if you have been exposed to a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient or staff member

Follow the CDC’s follow-up and reporting measures by EMS clinicians after caring for a PUI or patient with confirmed COVID-19. To protect the people in your household, you may need to practice social distancing, quarantine, or isolation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines these terms as:

  • Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread an infectious disease.
  • Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. It lasts long enough to ensure the person has not contracted an infectious disease.
  • Isolation prevents the spread of an infectious disease by separating people who are sick from those who are not. It lasts as long as the disease is contagious.

For a more comprehensive list of EMS resources, visit the “COVID-19 Resources for EMS” web page.

Personal Well-Being and Resilience

Managing Patient and Family Distress Associated with COVID-19 in the Prehospital Care Setting

Tips for Emergency Medical Services personnel Developed by the Healthcare Resilience Task Force Beha...

Personal Well-Being and Resilience

ACEP Policy on Visitation and Custody

Emergency physicians, along with emergency nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and ot...

Historical Information from the First Edition of the ACEP COVID-19 Field Guide

Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Health Care Personnel During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recommended routine infection prevention and control (IPC) practices during the COVID-19 pandemic Es...

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