At a glance: Advice for healthcare workers during COVID-19

Practical advice for healthcare workers dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic

Here we share 15 practical tips for helping you get through this challenging time.

1. Acknowledge how difficult this is

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge how difficult this situation is for everyone. Even those who are young and healthy have friends or relatives who fit into a risk category for this virus to which no-one has pre-existing immunity.

2. Inform yourself

We have a responsibility to inform ourselves and keep up to date with information from accurate sources, including the HSE website and WHO website, amongst others. We should also ensure that we help share this information with others, many of whom are scared and worried for themselves and those they love.

3. What can you control?

When a situation is unclear, it is normal to feel anxious and to seek methods to regain a sense of control.

This table might help as a guideline:

Stressor controllable uncontrolable
Important Action skills Coping skills
Not important Action skills Waste of time

For example, if you are over-exposed to social media content, consider it not important, not under your control, and therefore a waste of time. If you are looking for correct information, this is under your control – you have knowledge of the best data to access. It is not possible to control everyone else, but what they are doing might have an impact on you. Good coping skills include reaching out, switching off (from news/social media), doing things you enjoy and helping others.

We need to understand what we can and can’t control. We can control our attitudes and behaviour during this challenging and difficult time and prepare as best we can for what is likely to be a very unpredictable period over the coming weeks and months. We don’t know how long it might take, but it is important to foster hope and a belief that we will get through this together.

4. Keep up good hygiene practices

It is important to model good hygiene practices – for ourselves and those around us. Diligent hand hygiene, cough etiquette, etc, have a huge role to play.

5. Know how to use PPE

Know how to put on and take off PPE before you need it. Professor Martin Cormican has an excellent YouTube video, see below, in this regard. Be a ‘spotter’ for those around you to ensure that they are also employing safe PPE techniques.

How to put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE) in an acute hospital

6. Have empathy

Have empathy for patients who are unfortunate enough to have contracted this virus. This is a very frightening time for them, especially in the context of HDU/ICU care. And don’t forget that ‘normal medicine’ will still be part of the job – remember the importance of a differential diagnosis and the relevance of co-morbidities, even in the setting of proven Covid-19.

7. Take care of your physical needs

Self-care is a major priority. Where possible, try to practice good sleep habits, get some outdoor aerobic exercise, eat healthy food and stay hydrated. We acknowledge that these basic tenets of self-care are difficult at the best of times for NCHDs in particular.

8. Limit social media exposure

Manage your exposure to social media. Some of its content over recent days and weeks has amounted to catastrophizing, especially amongst ‘non-experts’. Decide carefully before you forward something you receive. Consider if this is going to be helpful or would it increase someone else’s anxiety. Misinformation can have a negative effect on our wellbeing without changing the reality of the situation we face. This is a good time to focus on and enjoy healthy habits and direct human connections. Concentrate on the here and now.

9. Let your training/professional body know if your circumstances have changed

In relation to training programmes and completion of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), the coronavirus has created new learning opportunities, while potentially reducing others e.g. attendance at conferences and examinations. It is very disappointing for those who have worked hard to prepare for such events to find them cancelled or postponed. Any difficulties with completion of training programme requirements or CPD for the year should be communicated with your training/professional training body. Current circumstances will be taken into account.

View our updates on COVID-19 and postgraduate specialist training

View our updates on COVID-19 and Professional Competence Schemes

10. Know your rights as an employee

Employers have an important role in communication with staff, providing clear policies on pay, sick leave and self-isolation. Support for the latter is vital to guarantee compliance and to prevent the unnecessary spread of infection.

Remember, if you're sick it's not your responsibility to find a locum

11. Know what to do if you have to self-isolate

If you do find yourself in self-isolation, inform yourself about what it means and ensure that you do not expose anyone else to the possibility of contracting the virus.

During this time you should keep in touch with others – for your own wellbeing and in order that they know you are okay. Use the time to re-examine your goals – personal and work – so that you can return to the work force healthy and revived.

12. Remember, you can only do what is possible

Extra provision will be made available to the HSE to provide the medical supports needed to care for patients affected by Covid-19. All we can ask of any healthcare workers is that they perform to the best of their ability within the resources available – i.e. to do what is possible, not what is impossible.

13. Know what to do if you develop symptoms

If you think you have developed symptoms of Covid-19, inform occupational health or your GP by phone (do not present to them in person), and isolate yourself until you get further advice. 

If you do not have a GP, any GP can arrange a test for you. Do not ring GP out-of-hours services.

14. Tell someone if you're overwhelmed

If you find that your mood is being affected by your workload or that you are becoming overwhelmed by these events, it is essential to let someone know – a colleague, line manager, friend – someone who can provide perspective, advice and direction. 

Managing the current situation presented by Covid19 is a collective responsibility where every single person has an important role to play. We can get through this by staying well-informed, acting on the expert recommendations and looking out for one another, both inside and outside of work.

15. Know where to find health and wellbeing support

RCPI Physician Wellbeing Programme

Tel: +353 1 863 9700

Through our Physician Wellbeing programme we are providing support, training and information to doctors at all stages of their careers.