What Can We Learn From the Past? Pandemic Health Care Workers' Fears, Concerns, and Needs: A Review

J Patient Saf. 2022 Jan 1;18(1):52-57. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000803.


Background: Health care workers (HCWs) have been engaged in fighting dangerous epidemics for hundreds of years, more recently in severe acute respiratory syndrome, H1N1, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and now coronavirus disease 2019. A consistent feature of epidemic disease results is that health care systems and HCWs are placed under immense strain.

Methods: A focused narrative review was conducted using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines to examine the main concerns and anxieties faced by HCWs during recent epidemics and to determine the supports deemed most important to those HCWs to keep them at the frontline. PubMed, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Library were searched in March 2020 using terms "Healthcare" OR "Medical" AND "Staff" OR "Workers" OR "Front line" AND "Concerns" OR "Anxiety" OR "Stress" AND "Pandemic" Or "Epidemic."

Results: Twenty-five studies that reported the concerns and expectations of an estimated 13,793 HCWs in 10 countries (Canada, China, Greece, Hong Kong, Japan, Liberia, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Taiwan) during pandemic situations were identified. Health care workers identified personal and family safety, appreciation, and the provision of personal protective equipment and adequate rest as primary concerns. Informal psychological supports were favored over formal employment-based group interventions.

Discussion: Despite being hailed by the media as heroes, HCWs face social stigmatization and experienced high levels of anxiety and fear regarding personal safety and the health of their colleagues and family. Health care workers are more likely to seek peer-to-peer psychological support but also benefit from knowing that formal psychological supports are available to them.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Fear
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype*
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2