An exploratory study of the experiences of emergency medical care (EMC) students transitioning through the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa

J Educ Health Promot. 2023 Aug 31:12:281. doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_1278_22. eCollection 2023.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic coalesced into increased mental health problems, particularly anxiety, stress, and depression for university students. Students from the emergency medical care (EMC) department encountered these difficulties, more intensely, particularly those in WIL or clinical placements, as they worked at the interface of illness, trauma, and grief during the pandemic. While empirical research has burgeoned in relation to healthcare practitioners within this context, little exists on EMC students at South African higher education institutions (HEIs), within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This qualitative study aimed to explore the academic and psychosocial challenges experienced by EMC students, as they transitioned through the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown during 2021.

Materials and methods: A qualitative approach with an exploratory descriptive design was used to guide the study. A sample of students from all levels of the EMC Department in the Faculty of Health Sciences was recruited. This was done using non-probability sampling techniques, which includes purposive sampling. Data saturation was reached after interviewing 15 participants using a virtual platform. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: Our results revealed five broad themes and six subthemes which reflected the psychosocial experiences that EMC students faced. The themes and (subthemes) included encountering COVID-19 during WIL or clinical, infection or loss of loved ones, psychological effects of living and working at the interface of COVID-19 (negative emotional toll of the pandemic, misinformation, isolation and social disconnectedness, and sense of responsibility/duty to work) and disruption to academic life (online learning challenges and challenges related to clinical training experiences) and financial impact of the pandemic.

Conclusions: The findings suggested that there is a critical need for HEIs to develop strategies that ensure EMC students' well-being amidst their academic journey within the context of the pandemic. This study will therefore assist EMC departments at higher education institutions to formulate strategies in relation to the pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; Emergency medical care; Exploratory study; Healthcare workers; Higher education; Psychological students.