Research and impact | By Shamim Quadir

Newly qualified nurses with PTSD and the effects of COVID‑19

A project from City funded by Barts Charity investigated the lasting psychological effects of COVID-19 on nurses early in their career, a quarter of whom have experienced symptoms related to PTSD.


Nurses are at the heart of the NHS, but many leave the medical profession soon after qualifying, with 30 to 60 per cent of nurses leaving their first place of employment within one year. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the transition from student to nurse even more challenging.


For the last three years, researchers at City’s School of Health Sciences have studied 190 Barts Health NHS nurses who were within their first year of qualifying. The nurses received regular questionnaires, as well as face-to-face and telephone interviews designed to measure their levels of depression, anxiety, stress and burnout along with resilience, and about their work environment. Half of the nurses were given psychological skills training to see if this was an effective intervention.


As COVID-19 hit during the initial phase of the study, it provided researchers with an early insight into how the pandemic exacerbated the pressures on newly qualified nurses. Initial data indicated that the nurses were negatively impacted by working during the pandemic with more than 25 per cent experiencing symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Using £29,000 of Barts Charity funding, the researchers are now building on this work with new a follow-on study. They will look deeper into the effects COVID-19 has had on nurses, and the main causes of distress and PTSD symptoms and how they can be mitigated, including the relationship between the nurses’ resilience and the symptoms of PTSD.


The study aims to provide practical recommendations to assist the NHS in better understanding the wellbeing and psychological support needs of early career nurses – not just at Barts Health NHS Trust, but also across the country.

Newly qualified nurses with PTSD and the effects of COVID-19
Judy Brook is leading the project investigating the effects of the pandemic on newly qualified nurses.

Project lead Judy Brook, Associate Dean of Partnerships and Placements at the School of Health Science at City says: “We are really grateful to have the Barts Charity funding to be able to explore this area of research further. Newly qualified nurses are incredibly important to our nursing workforce but sadly many leave the profession after a short while. We want to be able to support them to stay and contribute to patient care in the NHS. This project will help us to understand their experience during the pandemic and allow us to make recommendations for psychological support services that can be implemented in East London and beyond”.