September 29, 2022

Traumatic stress, resilience of nurses during COVID-19

By: Judy Mathias

Editor's Note

This study led by nurse researchers at Pennsylvania’s Reading Hospital and Villanova University, examined the traumatic stress and resilience of nurses who cared for patients with COVID-19.

A total of 22 nurses (12 from critical care [CC] and 10 from medical-surgical [MS] units) completed three surveys.

Four themes emerged:

  • Phases of traumatic stress response to perceived threats—Most nurses described experiencing traumatic stress symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, waves of unwanted feelings/flashbacks, feeling numb, and jumpiness. Early in the pandemic, MS and CC nurses had similar experiences and stress triggers. Later on, MS nurses started the restorative process, whereas CC nurses remained stressed.
  • Honoring their sacrifice—Most nurses said they wanted to participate in the study so they could tell their story. Early in the pandemic they said many times they were the only clinicians spending time in the patients rooms. They said they were mentally and physically exhausted from the heavy workload and stress, which negatively affected their well-being and relationships. During heavy surges they felt loneliness, isolation, and underappreciated by administration.
  • Professional self-identity—Nurses’ professional self-identify is tied to their core values, which they attempted to sustain while providing quality care and meeting ethical obligations.
  • Sustaining resilience in a stressful work environment—Despite ethical challenges, the nurses reported moderate moral resilience scores. They demonstrated their highest resilience scores with their adaptability, ability to bounce back, and belief that they are strong individuals.

The researchers concluded that nurse leaders must be ready to address nurses’ traumatic stress and threats to core values, build resilience, and apply this knowledge to other traumatic events in healthcare.


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