health care provider; health personnel; health care workers; psychological distress; burnout; professional; depression; stress; COVID-19 pandemic; psychological well-being


Community Health | Health Services Administration | Medical Education | Medicine and Health Sciences | Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Quality Improvement



Health care provider stress and emotional distress were well documented long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is growing data suggesting these have increased in response to the pandemic. The goal of this study was to take advantage of the unique experiences of licensed mental health (MH) clinicians working with health care trainees and clinicians before and during the pandemic to identify how this crisis affected both ongoing as well as new sources of stress. The Healer Education, Assessment and Referral Program (HEAR) provides MH screening, support, and MH referrals to ~19 000 health care students, trainees, staff, and faculty. Since its inception in 2009, the program has been staffed by 4 licensed counseling professionals who have worked both before and since the COVID-19 pandemic.


Qualitative data obtained from semi-structured, 1-hour interviews and a follow-up 1-hour focus group with 4 HEAR counselors was analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis.


Several preexisting stressors were amplified during the pandemic: financial concerns; long work hours; exposure to the suffering of illness, death, and dying; bullying; discordant values and moral distress; social inequities; individuals’ lack of adaptive coping; and individuals’ self-concept as a victim. New stressors included: health care demand greater than the workforce numbers and resources; caretaking for ill family/friends; homeschooling of children; social isolation; experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a war, fire, or storm; fear of personal illness and death, especially before vaccines; and hopes of a cure with vaccines; followed by perceived opportunities for improvement in leadership response to staff concerns.


Authentically responding to staff concerns/ideas, a patient and provider-centered health care culture, grief education and support, and attention to actionable stressors affecting providers’ well-being are indicated to meet the amplified and new stressors triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and sequelae.