Reflections on the lived experience of working with limited personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has placed significant strain on United States’ health care and health care providers. While most Americans were sheltering in place, nurses headed to work. Many lacked adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), increasing the risk of becoming infected or infecting others. Some health care organizations were not transparent with their nurses; many nurses were gagged from speaking up about the conditions in their workplaces. This study used a descriptive phenomenological design to describe the lived experience of acute care nurses working with limited access to PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unstructured interviews were conducted with 28 acute care nurses via telephone, WebEx, and Zoom. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The major theme, emotional roller coaster, describes the varied intense emotions the nurses experienced during the early weeks of the pandemic, encompassing eight subthemes: scared and afraid, sense of isolation, anger, betrayal, overwhelmed and exhausted, grief, helpless and at a loss, and denial. Other themes include: self-care, ‘hoping for the best’, ‘nurses are not invincible’, and ‘I feel lucky’. The high levels of stress and mental assault resulting from the COVID-19 crisis call for early stress assessment of nurses and provision of psychological intervention to mitigate lasting psychological trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12382
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • COVID-19
  • nurse mental well-being
  • nursing
  • pandemic
  • personal protective equipment
  • phenomenological design
  • workplace


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