Redeployment to COVID-19 Workforces: The Lived Experiences of Public Health Nurses

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Johnson, Amber
COVID-19 , Redeployment , Public Health Nurse
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented strain on healthcare systems globally. Public health nurses (PHNs) have been especially impacted as many transitioned from non-clinical roles to the frontlines of the pandemic. Available research focuses predominately on redeployed healthcare providers within hospital-based environments, including critical care areas, with limited research within public health settings. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of PHNs redeployed to COVID-19 response. Eight PHNs were recruited from two local public health units in southeastern Ontario using purposive sampling until data saturation was achieved. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, audio recorded and transcribed. Interview data were analyzed in NVivo using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Transcriptions were systematically analyzed individually and then compared across different interviews to identify common themes and subthemes. The novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic presented as a storm for PHNs creating a host of unknowns and stressful environments. Participants shared their experiences of weathering the Storm, a prolonged pandemic response which led to unsustainable workplaces, personal obligations and stressors, and different levels of burnout. As the storm began to settle, the participants were left dealing with the aftermath of the storm, adapting to new practice environments and relearning pre-pandemic roles. Finally, participants shared reflections on a storm to remember, which comprised opportunities for personal growth, community connection, and leadership. Understanding the lived experiences of PHNs is critical to informing nursing practice and preparing for future pandemics at a health systems level. Knowledge from PHNs’ experiences can inform organizational policy on evidence-based staffing models, continuing education, and training for PHNs on an annual basis and facilitate management practice improvements including strength-based approaches to redeployment, and promotion of psychologically safe work environments. PHNs’ experiences must be considered in future public health emergencies to better support PHNs’ redeployment, prevent burnout, and protect communities in future public health emergencies.
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