Understanding and Addressing Anxiety Among Healthcare Workers During COVID-19

Hear me, protect me, prepare me, support me and care for me was the message health care professionals dealing with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic delivered to their organizations.

Hear me, protect me, prepare me, support me and care for me was the message health care professionals dealing with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic delivered to their organizations, according to a viewpoint article published in JAMA.

The responses from 8 listening sessions with groups of physicians, nurses, advanced practice clinicians, residents, and fellows were summarized and discussed in the article, which meant to understand and address the sources of healthcare worker anxiety during the pandemic. The sessions, heard from 69 healthcare workers during the first week of the pandemic, explored 3 key concerns: what health care professionals were most concerned about, what messaging and behaviors they needed from their leaders, and what other tangible sources of support they believed would be most helpful to them.

According to the article authors, all of the sessions consistently focused on 8 sources of anxiety:

  1. Access to appropriate personal protective equipment,
  2. exposure to COVID-19 at work and taking the infection home to their family,
  3. suboptimal access to testing if they develop COVID-19 symptoms and concomitant fear of propagating infection at work,
  4. uncertainty that their organization will support/care for their personal and family needs if the healthcare worker developed infection,
  5. access to childcare during increased work hours and school closures,
  6. support for other personal and family needs as work hours and demands increase (food, hydration, lodging, transportation),
  7. being able to provide competent medical care if deployed to a new area (for example non-intensive care unit healthcare works having to function in the intensive care unit),
  8. lack of access to up-to-date information and communication.

The responses led to 5 responses healthcare workers wanted delivered to their organizations: hear me, protect me, prepare me, support me and care for me.

Each response was accompanied by a principle desire, concern and suggested key components of response. The authors concluded that health care professionals wanted, “unambiguous assurance that their organization will support them and their family.” This included, “the organization listening to their concerns, doing all that is possible to protect them and prevent them from acquiring COVID-19 infection, and assuring them that if they do become infected, the organization will support them and their family on all fronts, both medically and socially.”

Along with maintaining critical supplies, the maintenance of an adequate healthcare workforce that maximizes the ability of each clinician to handle increased patient- and overall work-load for extended periods of time is critical. According to the article authors, “the importance of simple and genuine expressions of gratitude for the commitment of health care professionals and their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way for patients and colleagues cannot be overstated.” Visible leadership that checks in with workers and asks, “what do you need?” while making every effort to address those needs was also highlighted.

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The article authors noted to that although their work summarized key concerns and considerations for supporting health care professionals and ensuring they are equipped deal with the pandemic and serve their patients and communities, “few of these considerations and suggestions have substantial evidence to support them; they are based on experience, direct requests from health care professionals, and common sense.”


Shanafelt T, Ripp J, Trockel M. Understanding and addressing sources of anxiety among health care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic [published online April 7 2020]. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.5893