Given critical care nurses’ high prepandemic levels of moral distress and burnout, the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely have a tremendous influence on intensive care unit (ICU) nurses’ mental health and continuation in the ICU workforce.
To describe the experiences of ICU nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Nurses who worked in ICUs in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic were recruited to complete a survey from October 2020 through early January 2021 through social media and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Three open-ended questions focused on the experiences of ICU nurses during the pandemic.
Of 498 nurses who completed the survey, 285 answered the open-ended questions. Nurses reported stress related to a lack of evidence-based treatment, poor patient prognosis, and lack of family presence in the ICU. Nurses perceived inadequate leadership support and inequity within the health care team. Lack of consistent community support to slow the spread of COVID-19 or recognition that COVID-19 was real increased nurses’ feelings of isolation. Nurses reported physical and emotional symptoms including exhaustion, anxiety, sleeplessness, and moral distress. Fear of contracting COVID-19 or of infecting family and friends was also prevalent.
Intensive care unit nurses in the United States experienced unprecedented and immense burden during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding these experiences provides insights into areas that must be addressed to build and sustain an ICU nurse workforce. Studies are needed to further describe nurses’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and identify effective resources that support ICU nurse well-being.