The special report from Morning Consult explored how mental health challenges and burnout are affecting the health care workforce and how clinicians view the future of the medical field in light of the pandemic. The data is drawn from a poll of 1,000 health care workers conducted in September 2021.
We heard from numerous health care professionals, including an NIH scientist who worked on a COVID-19 vaccine, that our reporting on these issues, particularly mental health and burnout, was meaningful to them during a time when health care workers did not feel their voices were prioritized in the national dialogue on COVID-19.
The issues we highlighted have remained in the national spotlight since we published the series, helping policymakers and other public leaders draw distinctions between anecdotes and widespread perceptions of vaccine skepticism, mental health challenges and more among both frontline health care workers and support staff.
Morning Consult’s internal survey research team developed the polls, with input on the questions from reporter Gaby Galvin and editors Matt Bracken and Brian Yermal Jr. The survey interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of health care workers based on age, gender and race. These weights were based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for health care practitioners and technical occupations and health care support occupations. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Morning Consult conducts interviews using a diverse global network of trusted survey panel providers that reach tens of millions of adults. In selecting panels, Morning Consult first examines European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR) documents that contain a uniform set of 26-28 questions for survey panels on topics such as sample sources and recruitment, profiling data, respondent privacy and data security, data quality and validation and incentives.
Respondents complete the surveys online via Qualtrics using desktop computers, laptops or mobile phones. Where applicable, we rotate or randomize matrix or grid-based questions to reduce potential primacy and recency effects; there are also rigorous quality assurance checks in place, including speed (respondents are removed if they complete the survey in less than 4-5 minutes), randomly generated addition/subtraction and pattern problems, satisfaction measures and more. Respondents may complete a survey at most once every 3 days. Each panel uses their own unique procedures for recruiting participants.
We were able to get results very quickly after the survey was fielded, meaning our reporting was highly timely and newsworthy. The results of the survey informed which stories we would pursue and the sources we ultimately contacted for the stories.
What was the hardest part of this project?
To our knowledge, we are the only U.S. newsroom with fully in-house survey research capabilities, making this a collaborative, time-intensive project. We also sifted through thousands of open-ended responses (particularly for our story on the future of the health care workforce), a gargantuan effort over several weeks.
We did the poll and series as a follow-up to a January 2021 project exploring similar challenges for health care workers, with the goal of assessing whether the situation had worsened, gotten better or stayed the same. We identified that the pandemic’s toll on health care workers hasn’t abated since January 2021, helping to inform public discourse and policy and business decision-making.
What can others learn from this project?
Other journalists can use — and have used — our series as a springboard to explore the environment for health care workers in their own communities. Many have cited our findings to report on local health care burnout and employment trends.