Experiences of Health Workers in the COVID-19 Pandemic shares the stories of frontline health workers—told in their own words—during the second wave of COVID-19 in Australia. The book records the complex emotions healthcare workers experienced as the pandemic unfolded, and the challenges they faced in caring for themselves, their families, and their patients. The book shares their insights on what we can learn from the pandemic to strengthen our health system and prepare for future crises.
The book draws on over 9,000 responses to a survey examining the psychological, occupational, and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline health workers. Survey participants came from all areas of the health sector, from intensive care doctors to hospital cleaners to aged care nurses, and from large metropolitan hospitals to rural primary care practices. The authors organise these free-text responses thematically, creating a shared narrative of health workers experiences. Each chapter is prefaced by a brief commentary that provides context and introduces the the themes that emerged from the survey.
This book offers a unique historical record of the experiences of thousands of healthcare workers at the height of the second wave of the pandemic and will be of great interest to anyone interested in the experiences of healthcare workers, and the psychological, organisational, healthcare policy, and social challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Table of Contents
Terms and abbreviations
2 A roller-coaster of mood and meaning
3 Pervasive, precarious, and perilous
4 Self-care struggles and strategies
5 The impossible juggle of work and care
6 Missing the human connection
7 Dispensable and disillusioned
8 Overwork, burnout, and resignation
9 Leadership and teams
10 Communication and understanding
11 Feeling valued and appreciated
12 Showing up all the cracks
13 Not being able to hug a dying patient
14 Supporting emotional wellbeing
15 Purpose, compassion, and gratitude
16 Looking back, looking forwards
Postscript: to whoever is reading this
Marie Bismark is a public health physician, health lawyer and Associate Professor in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she provided mental health care to patients in the emergency department, intensive care unit, and on the COVID-19 ward of The Royal Melbourne Hospital. She also leads a research team at the University of Melbourne, focused on the interface between patient safety, clinician wellbeing, and health regulation.
Karen Willis is Professor of Public Health at Victoria University, Australia. She is a health sociologist and qualitative methodologist. She co-led the Australian Frontline Health Worker Study and is currently co-leading the Future-Proofing the Frontline project to develop interventions to support health workers during times of crisis. Her previous research has examined how patients and professionals navigate the healthcare system, self-management of chronic conditions, and the experience of loneliness for people with chronic conditions. She is co-editor of The Covid-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives (Routledge, 2021) and co-editor of Navigating Private and Public Healthcare: Experiences of Patients, Doctors and Policy-Makers (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).
Sophie Lewis is Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. She has an inter-disciplinary background in sociology and public health and her research uses innovative qualitative methods to explore the experience of living with long-term conditions. Her current research examines how people with chronic illnesses experience loneliness, self-management support in patient/clinician interactions, end of life care decision-making, and the experiences of living with advanced cancer.
Natasha Smallwood is an Associate Professor in the Central Clinical School at Monash University, Australia, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Consultant Respiratory Physician at Alfred Health. Her research interests include symptom management, supporting patients with severe lung diseases, gender equity and clinician wellbeing. She co-led the Australian Frontline Health Worker Study and is currently co-leading the Future-Proofing the Frontline project to develop interventions to support health workers during times of crisis.
"Health workers were among the first and most impacted by Covid-19—not just by the virus, but also by the changes to rosters, leave, school attendance and family impact. The authors conducted a wide-ranging survey that tapped into the concerns, challenges, and demands placed on our health workers and their responses. This book provides a unique insight into the impact of the pandemic on a vital cohort; it illustrates some of the issues faced in the health system that have been exposed as a result of the pandemic, and the courage and resilience shown by many".
Ruth Vine, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Australia
"While the whole society has been through a highly threatening and morale-sapping experience through the pandemic, healthcare workers have been at the eye of the storm. This book confirms that they have performed incredibly, suffered greatly, and also that the experience has changed so many in fundamental ways. This book provides a window into this experience, which is captured through the dedication and commitment of those who fought to conduct this unique survey. The healing professions offer the greatest vocation that can be followed and are deeply respected. This book shows why and reveals the deeply human elements of health and medical care under extreme conditions".
Patrick McGorry, AO, Executive Director of Orygen and Professor of Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Australia
"Based on a rich and expansive data set, this book gives a fascinating insight into the experiences of health workers in the pandemic context. It reveals new challenges that emerged and illuminates existing cracks in the health system. This book provides an important opportunity to hear from healthcare workers in their words. Those who work in this sector will find solace in this book as a way of making sense of their experiences and giving voice to their emotions. For those in health policy or management roles, it is incumbent upon us to hear these voices and think about how we can shape the sector so that we learn from this experience".
Helen Dickenson, Professor of Public Service Research, University of New South Wales, Australia
"In his 1947 novel The Plague, Albert Camus wrote of ‘All who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers’. Experiences of Health Workers in the COVID-19 Pandemic is a remarkable record of the experiences of Australian health workers. In the midst of fear, uncertainty, and exhaustion, their voices are an eloquent call for understanding, support, and recognition of our shared humanity in the face of a modern plague".
Ron Paterson, Emeritus Professor of Health Law and Policy, University of Auckland, New Zealand
"This is front line evidence from the trenches. I tear up reading this. Partly because the words accurately echo what I felt/feel. Partly because I wished I had done more for my colleagues. Mandatory reading for anyone who manages people in health care."
Eric Levi, Melbourne Otolaryngologist Head & Neck Surgeon