Stressors and Coping Mechanisms for COVID-19 Medical Staff

The psychological well-being of medical staff facing COVID-19 is essential.

Posted Apr 14, 2020

Photo by Amin Moshrefi on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Amin Moshrefi on Unsplash

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak begins to infiltrate our daily lives, many people are struggling to determine the ways they can be most helpful. Researchers are completing studies to answer questions many of us are thinking about, such as how the larger community can provide support to frontline medical workers and what the mental health concerns will be for individuals working during this epidemic.

One of the first published studies addressing these issues is titled “Psychological Impact and Coping Strategies of Frontline Medical Staff in Hunan Between January and March 2020 During the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Hubei, China." This study was led by Haozheng Cai and published by the Medical Science Monitor. 534 questionnaires were completed by the participants who were frontline medical workers (doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and other hospital staff) working in the province adjacent to Hubei, where the initial COVID-19 outbreak occurred. This cross-sectional observational study sought to understand the psychological impacts and coping mechanisms medical professionals had, along with any variances based on age, gender, or job title.

Before understanding how medical workers cope, it was essential to determine what motivated them to work and how emotions differed based on job role. Research found:

“The most important element was their social and moral responsibility, which drove them to continue working during the outbreak…Medical staff also expected to receive recognition from hospital authorities, and nurses had more concerns regarding extra financial compensation during or after the outbreak when compared with other healthcare workers. However, nursing staff also felt more nervous and anxious when on the ward when compared with other groups. Doctors were more unhappy about working overtime during the COVID-19 outbreak than other healthcare workers.”

Although nurses experienced higher levels of anxiety than those in other roles, all medical staff experienced three major stressors. These consisted of “concerns for personal safety, concerns for their families, and concerns for patient mortality.” Of these three concerns, “the safety of family was the biggest impact in reducing staff stress.” This means that one way to decrease the stress for medical staff is to have strict disease prevention protocols in place for employees to lower the odds of being infected with COVID-19 and spreading the disease to their family members.

For those of us not responding directly to the COVID-19 response, it is important to know how frontline medical workers are coping. The study found:

“Strategies such as strict protective measures, knowledge of prevention and transmission, social isolation measures, and positive self-attitude resulted in the highest scores, with nurses giving the highest scores in every question. Seeking help from family and friends was a significant supportive measure. Medical staff did not express a significant wish to reduce stress by consulting a psychologist to discuss their emotions, especially in the populations of doctors and medical technicians.”

The above statement highlights that medical professionals will be more likely to turn to their family and friends instead of seeking counseling. Since the COVID-19 outbreak is still occurring, research is sparse and best practices are constantly shifting. In these times of uncertainty, we need to pay attention to the evolving needs of the frontline medical workers. Once the outbreak is under control, it is our duty to continue looking after all needs (including mental health) of those who risked it all for our safety.

Written by Logan Penovich, a full-time student at Wheaton College in Illinois. She received her B.S. from the University of Minnesota and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership.


Cai, H., Tu, B., Ma, J., Chen, L., Fu, L., Jiang, Y., & Zhuang, Q. (2020). Psychological impacts and coping strategies of front-line medical staff during COVID-19 outbreak in Hunan, China. Medical Science Monitor, 26.