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Title: Behind the Mask: the Physical, Mental, and Social Impact of COVID-19 on Essential Healthcare Workers in New York City
Authors: Chaudhry, Hifsa
Advisors: Hernández, Sebastián R
Certificate Program: Global Health and Health Policy Program
Class Year: 2022
Abstract: The healthcare system perpetuates structural violence against healthcare workers by enforcing a ‘culture of silence’ which normalizes stress, promotes the concept of ‘mental toughness,’ and stigmatizes seeking help. As a result of this structural violence, many healthcare workers suffer in violence rather than face ostracization from peers or risk losing their job and/or license by being deemed ‘mentally unfit to work.’ Now, the healthcare system does provide a magic bullet solution to ease the mental toll in the form of debriefings, but these debriefings fail to address the structural issues at play and thus are ineffective at truly supporting healthcare workers in destressing and processing the emotional impact of difficult cases. While healthcare workers were already suffering from the mental and physical toll of their job, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing issues as healthcare workers were deemed ‘essential’ and called to the frontlines to battle against the disease by caring for those infected. As a result of their sacrifices, mainstream media dubbed healthcare workers as ‘heroes,’ but even as these workers placed their lives on the line to perform an essential service, very little was being done to truly support them. This work highlights the experiences of 19 essential healthcare workers who served in New York City - arguably one of the hardest hit cities in the country during the pandemic. These healthcare workers come from a variety of healthcare professions - EMTs, paramedics, administrative healthcare, residents, and physicians - and diverse backgrounds, but what connects them is their shared experience of battling one of the greatest healthcare crises the country has ever seen - the COVID-19 pandemic - and the toll that that experience took on them. The stories of these individuals (compiled from their own words) - along with accompanying photographs to add an additional dimension to the narratives - emphasizes the physical, mental, and social impact of COVID-19 on essential healthcare workers. While each healthcare worker had a unique experience shaped by their duration of employment in the healthcare field, status in the healthcare chain of command, and duration of exposure to COVID-19 patients, there’s a common thread of being afraid to catch the disease or spread it to loved ones, the stress of treating patients given the lack of verified treatments, and the mental health impact of seeing such high rates of mortality and experiencing such isolation. In addition, these ethnographic narratives serve as a critique of the healthcare system which perpetuates a ‘culture of silence’ and thus places healthcare workers at risk for mental health issues. Healthcare workers are the backbone of the healthcare system, and after having fought in such a war - one that is still raging on - they are suffering from burn out, depression, and other forms of exhaustion. The sacrifice of these individuals needs to be honored; their stories need to be shared; and the healthcare system needs to be remedied so they are supported instead of penalized for taking a break.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Global Health and Health Policy Program, 2017-2022

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