Nurses on the frontline: Unveiling the challenges of Covid-19 patient care

A recent study conducted by Dr Joan Dikobe from the North-West University’s (NWU’s) School of Nursing Science sheds light on the lived experiences of nurses as they cared for patients diagnosed with Covid-19.

As frontline healthcare workers, they are fundamental to the healthcare system, and play a crucial role in ensuring the continuity and quality of care to the patient.

Dr Dikobe says the study aimed to examine the physical, psychological, and social experiences of nurses as they provided care to Covid-19 patients in the North West province.

She says the nurses showed a deep understanding of Covid-19 and were well-versed in the virus's symptoms, which include fever, cough, body aches, loss of taste/smell, and, in severe cases, pneumonia and hypoxia.

“Caring for Covid-19 patients has taken a toll on the physical well-being of nurses. Some reported developing comorbidities such as hypertension, due to the high-stress environment and long hours of work. Others mentioned losing their sense of smell, a lasting effect of the virus. These physical challenges are consistent with global findings, highlighting the physical risks nurses face in the line of duty,” she says.

“The psychological burden on these nurses is substantial. Fear of infection looms large, and some nurses even experienced depression. The fear of transmitting the virus to family members added to their psychological distress, and witnessing colleagues succumb to the virus intensified their anxiety and stress. Nurses often grappled with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and powerlessness,” she adds.

According to Dr Dikobe, stigmatisation and social isolation are significant issues faced by these nurses. Colleagues from non-Covid wards and managers avoided close contact, fearing infection. Nurses recounted being treated as pariahs, with people running away from them in public areas. Management's reluctance to enter the Covid-19 wards further compounded their isolation.

“However, despite these immense challenges, nurses demonstrated resilience and compassion. They adopted innovative approaches, such as using technology to connect Covid-19 patients with their families. Some nurses went above and beyond, purchasing items like lemons, ginger, and garlic to aid in patients' recovery. Nurses also provided emotional support through video calls, prayers, and holding patients' hands during their most challenging moments.”

She adds that, coping with the trauma of Covid-19 pandemic, patient care proved difficult but essential. “Nurses leaned on their dedication to the profession and the Nurses' Pledge to find strength. They emphasised the importance of caring for patients and their role in making a difference, and found spiritual practices and religious coping as sources of resilience,”.

The study also revealed that some nurses contemplated resigning due to the trauma they experienced. The fear of getting sick and the emotional toll of caring for Covid-19

patients pushed them to the brink. Many nurses felt changed and were considering leaving bedside nursing altogether.

Dr Dikobe says these findings underscore the critical importance of supporting nurses on the frontlines. “Addressing the physical, psychological, and social challenges they face is essential to ensure their well-being and the quality of patient care. Healthcare institutions must take action to provide resources, training, and emotional support to nurses during and after the pandemic.”

Dr Dikobe’s study was supervised by Prof Miriam Moagi and co-supervised by Prof Leepile Sehularo.


Dr Joan Dikobe.

Submitted on Mon, 08/28/2023 - 16:00