The Emotional Toll of COVID-19

Oncology Nurse Edition, ONCOLOGY Nurse Edition®,

Recent study results revealed the most prevalent concerns of oncology nurses during the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak

A day in the life of many nurses looks drastically different than it did several months ago because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, which is causing many nurses to endure more anxiety and even take on shifts in different departments.

Nurses’ Routines May Change

More than a third (38%) of nurses said that they have been reassigned to treat patients withCOVID-19, according to the results from a recent survey conducted by NurseGrid that consisted of more than 15,000 responses.1 Even if nurses have not been directed to other units, there have been reports of more nurses floating between departments.

“When census is low, nurses are floating more often. We have heard that due to the financial burden, there may be hours cut and furloughs, but it is unclear how that will impact my team specifically,” said Jenna, an oncology nurse practitioner in Virginia.*

And although many nurses may stay on the oncology unit, there is still a shortage of skilled nurses, Jenna explained. For example, her institution, lacks enough nurses with trainingin administering chemotherapy.

Stress, Burnout Are Widespread

The survey also reported that the majority (79%) of nurses were worried about infecting family members and friends, and 61% were worried about becoming infected while at work. Other concerns included burnout (28%) and mental health (27%).1

“Clinicians are definitely feeling the effects of anxiety. It’s especially challenging because we have to be supportive of our patients who are, in most cases, alone without their caregivers,” Jenna said. “The dedication to include caregivers in rounds, treatment decisions, and updates is a new obstacle that can be difficult to navigate. Clinicians are faced with burnout in ways they never have been before.”

Healthcare providers are not the only ones who are feeling stressed out. The survey results also showed that 23% of nurses are concerned about the increased public complacency when it comes to social distancing/stay-at-home orders. As the pandemic continues to drag on, people may become fatigued of these guidelines and start venturing out.

But Jenna said that when people feel that way, they should write their loved ones letters as well as take advantage of today’s technology with video calls. “Every time someone feels like breaking the social distancing guidelines, they should ask if it’s worth risking a life,” she said.

“I often share the following advice with patients: The big picture can be overwhelming sometimes [eg, When will this quarantine be over? When will the effects from COVID-19 slow or stop?]. Focus on whatever part of the situation you can handle. Whether you address issues 1 week, 1 shift, 1 hour, or 1 moment at a time, take deep breaths and focus on what you can control. Always try to find a silver lining,” Jenna said.

*Full name and institution withheld by request.


1. Nursing professionals pulse survey: 2020 pandemic. NurseGrid. Accessed May 04, 2020.