Intensive Care Unit Nurses’ Lived Experiences of Psychological Stress and Trauma Caring for COVID-19 Patients

Academic Article


  • Background: Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses are enduring unprecedented burden caring for COVID-19 patients. Few studies have reported types of work-related events that lead to occupational stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Methods: ICU nurses were recruited at an academic health science center to explore their experiences of caring for COVID-19 patients. Participants were interviewed for 1 hour using open-ended questions. Symptoms of PTSD were assessed using the PTSD Checklist, job satisfaction with a Likert-type scale, and intention to leave their job with a “yes or no” question. Semi-structured interviews were transcribed and analyzed using NVivo software; quantitative data were analyzed using frequencies and means with R 4.0.5. Findings: The ICU nurse sample comprised nine females and one male, all Caucasian, with a mean age of 26.6 years. Analysis of interview transcripts revealed six recurring themes: Change in Practice, Emotion, Patient’s Family, Isolation, Job Satisfaction, and Public Reaction. Quantitative findings revealed 7 of 10 met diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Most participants (7/10) were “somewhat satisfied” with their job. Five of 10 considered leaving their job in the last 6 months. Conclusion/Implications for Practice: Understanding the impact stressful pandemic-related patient care has on ICU nurses provides evidence that new policies are needed. Furthermore, qualitative findings provide insight into the best design and deployment of interventions to reduce stress and prevent development of PTSD. More research is needed to understand long-term effects of PTSD and to evaluate strategies to prevent PTSD during stressful emergency surges in intensive care.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Levi P; Moss J
  • Start Page

  • 358
  • End Page

  • 367
  • Volume

  • 70
  • Issue

  • 8