Dealing With COVID-19 Post-Traumatic Stress

Strategies for Preserving the Nursing Workforce and Supporting all Vital Frontline Personnel

Therese A. Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN; Nancy M. Valentine, PhD, DSc(hon), MPH, FAAN, FNAP President


Nurs Econ. 2021;39(5):225-238, 250. 

In This Article

Where are we now?

Although people vary in how effectively they deal with stressful situations, it is probably safe to say no one, leadership and clinical staff, has come through COVID without an impact on mental, emotional, and overall life assessment. Again, we are all in this together. There is no hierarchy shielding members of the healthcare community.

The future of the workforce is in jeopardy given the personal and professional trauma experienced during the pandemic. Just looking at the numbers is a wake-up call, and the current nursing shortage could escalate rapidly. Anecdotally, chief nursing officers (CNOs) are reporting nurse staff shortages. Many cite examples of colleagues who could have practiced for 10 more years, part-time while scaling back on a long road to retirement, but have opted to quit with statements such as "I'm done."

In picking up the pieces and learning from the experience, we must step back and first ask ourselves, can we begin with resetting our expectations of what we can expect of all clinicians and frontline staff? Perhaps we must recalibrate our expectations of how much resilience is enough and is it unlimited. Can we have more awareness by consciously moving beyond expecting nurses, doctors, nursing assistants, and anyone in health care to have high levels of resilience simply as a combination of self-selection to go into health care in the first place?

Whether we are consciously aware of it, we typically expect resilience to be in the DNA of care providers. Staff overall have remarkable resilience, as defined by the ability to bounce back after a major event. They demonstrate it on an ongoing, daily basis but there are limits and we have seen the reality involved in people reaching these limits.

Perhaps the definition of resilience needs to be expanded. Just bouncing back may not be the best framework. Not everyone starts at a good place before a stressful event. An alternative view is that with proper support and workplace environment, people can bounce forward and learn from the event, thereby gaining more strength and reserves.