The Lived Experiences of Nurses in France During the COVID-19 Pandemic’s First Waves and their Resources for Meeting that Challenge

Maryline Abt 1 * , Philippe Delmas 1, Ingrid Gilles 2, Annie Oulevey Bachmann 1, Claudia Ortoleva Bucher 1

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 21-39

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The COVID-19 pandemic put France’s healthcare system under extreme tension and led to significant levels of stress among healthcare professionals in general and nurses in particular. Research has shown how these elements affected nurses’ physical and psychological health and manifested as insomnia, anxiety, and depressive syndromes. The present qualitative study aimed to explore the lived experiences of France’s nurses as a function of their level of exposure to the virus and whether they worked in the hospital sector or practiced privately in the community during the pandemic’s first wave. It also sought to describe the resources nurses used to maintain their overall health. We administered 19 qualitative interviews to 19 nurses in the autumn of 2021. The present study revealed that nurses were subjected to significant stress during the pandemic. Our data analysis enabled us to draw out three principal themes: 1) Being on the edge in stormy period; 2) Personal impact on several levels and 3) Floating together and learning. There were no significant differences between the groups that were subjected to different levels of exposure to COVID-19. All the groups were affected by the pandemic that struck a healthcare system that was already systematically fragile. Nurses were severely tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, but their consciousness of the importance of their role grew, despite questioning what meaning there was to their profession, perhaps even to their lives. The trauma still felt fresh 18 months later, during the interviews, and this cannot be ignored in future healthcare policymaking.

Keywords: COVID-19, nurses, salutogenesis, stressors, health resources.