The impact of the pandemic on the mental health of frontline healthcare professionals working in acute hospital settings has been widely reported. But what about those working in other areas of the healthcare system, such as primary and community care services?
This was the focus of medical sociologist Dr Shane O’Donnell’s Newman Fellowship research, carried out in UCD School of Medicine.
UCD Newman Fellowship Programme is proud to highlight Shane’s research to mark World Mental Health Month this October.
Burnout and distress
Shane and his research collaborators interviewed two groups of healthcare professionals who were at the frontline of community care during the pandemic in Ireland: community pharmacists and consultant psychiatrists.
“In so doing, we aimed to document the impact of the pandemic on their wellbeing and find out what sort of supports might be useful to them in a post-pandemic environment,” said Shane. “We found that being at the frontline of the COVID-19 response and leading their team through uncertain times caused considerable psychological distress to participants.”
Much of the burnout experienced by healthcare workers is attributable to systemic structural inadequacies. Therefore, Shane advocates for a shift away from current resilience-based approaches that rely on individual-level interventions towards creating a social and infrastructural environment that supports the psychological wellbeing of each individual.
A holistic approach
Mindful of the need to amplify the voices and experiences of those frontline workers whose stress was overlooked at the height of the pandemic, Shane focused on developing a more holistic approach to addressing staff welfare across the entire healthcare system, which addresses both the structural and individual determinants of burnout.
Shane and his research collaborators developed a questionnaire-based toolkit to support management teams within healthcare services to evaluate their performance in meeting the needs of their staff.
“Our aim is for this to be the gold standard for measuring organizational-level performance,” said Shane.
Dr Shane O’Donnell’s Newman Fellowship in Frontline and Adolescent Mental Health was supported by Donal Galvin and the AIB Together Fund. He was supervised by Associate Professor Blánaid Gavin and Professor Fiona McNicholas in UCD School of Medicine.
Since completing his Newman Fellowship, Shane has recently embarked on a 3-year Marie Curie Fellowship and is currently on an 18-month secondment at York University, Toronto.