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

Impact on Nursing

TF: Have these trends been exacerbated by the pandemic? What has been the impact?

NV: The pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Ettman and coauthors (2020) suggest prevalence of depression symptoms in the United States was more than three-fold higher during COVID-19 than pre-pandemic. Individuals with lower social resources, lower economic resources, and greater exposure to stressors (e.g., job loss, which occurred among many nurses who were laid off during the pandemic if unable to practice in high-intensity settings) reported a greater burden of depression symptoms. The authors concluded post-COVID-19 plans should account for the probable increase in mental illness, particularly among at-risk populations.

How does this translate for clinical staff? A recent American Medical Association study of physicians, nurses, and other clinicians revealed 49% of the sample reported being burned-out (Cullen, 2021).

• Ambulatory care settings had highest scores for burnout due to constant changing of workflows This was followed by ICU and emergency room.

• Self-reported anxiety and depression were highest for nurses at 44% followed by support staff.

• Less than half of the sample felt valued; clinical support and nurses felt the least support.

• Many reported planning to reduce clinical hours or leave practice within 2 years.

   • 27% of physicians are planning to leave their clinical practice followed by 40% for nurses, which was the highest percentage; 32% of nurse practitioners reported reducing hours or leaving practice.

   • This question is considered valid and reliable as it has been tested in previous questionnaires. The researchers believe, based on the validity of previous studies, when people report intent to leave, they do leave.

In summary, these professional and environmental factors, and the incidence and prevalence of mental health issues in the population at large, contribute to the complex world of nursing. The work itself is challenging and, depending on the situation and the individual, there are various levels of stress that come with work. These work system factors are long-standing and recognized, but with so many other responsibilities in operating a healthcare organization, staff welfare often drops on the organization's top strategic goals.