Ethics and Well-Being: The Health Professions and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Acad Med. 2022 Mar 1;97(3S):S98-S103. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004524.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on health professionals, adding to the moral suffering and burnout that existed prepandemic. The physical, psychological, and moral toll of the pandemic has threatened the well-being and integrity of clinicians. The narrative of self-sacrifice and heroism bolstered people early on but was not sustainable over time. For health professions students, the learning environment changed dramatically, limiting opportunities in direct patient care and raising concerns for meeting training requirements. Learners lost social connections and felt isolated while learning remotely, and they witnessed ethical tensions between patient-centered care and parallel obligations to public health. Worries about transmission of the virus and uncertainty about its management contributed to their moral suffering. Educators adjusted curricula to address the changing ethical landscape. Preparing learners for the realities of their future professional identities requires creation of interprofessional moral communities that provide support and help develop the moral agency and integrity of its members using experiential and relational learning methods. Investing in the well-being and resilience of clinicians, implementing the recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine, and engaging learners and faculty as cocreators of ethical practice have the potential to transform the learning environment. Faculty need to be trained as effective mentors to create safe spaces for exploring challenges and address moral adversity. Ethics education will need to expand to issues related to health systems science, social determinants of health, and public health, and the cultivation of moral sensitivity, character development, professional identity formation, and moral resilience.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Change Management*
  • Education, Medical / trends*
  • Education, Nursing / trends*
  • Ethics, Medical / education
  • Ethics, Nursing / education
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • United States