During the pandemic, COVID-19 health care workers experienced high levels of trauma, comparable to those of military veterans, according to a study done by Duke University, Vanderbilt University and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

About the study: The study researched the “moral injury” of 2,099 health care workers during the pandemic, and compared it to data of 918 post 9/11 combat veterans.

  • The researchers looked into two different kinds of moral injury: moral injury imposed by the immoral actions of others, and moral injuries imposed by one's self by carrying out actions that conflict with their personal moral code.
  • “Moral injury is used to describe the damage done to the consciousness or identity of people who might witness, cause or fail to prevent acts that go against their own moral standards,” said Jason Nieuwsma, the lead author of the study, according to a Duke press release.
  • “Moral injuries can happen when health care workers’ values and beliefs conflict with their actions or the ways they witness others acting,” said Nieuwsma.
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Study findings: 46% percent of veterans and 51% of health care workers reported moral injury inflicted by the actions of others’ immoral behavior, while 24% of veterans and 18 % of health care workers indicated moral injury due to their own actions that violated their personal moral code, according to the study.

  • As found in the study, 51% percent of health care workers felt betrayal from their communities after seeing them “willfully ignoring mitigation measures, as well as a loss of trust, particularly in authority figures who were supposed to keep workers safe,” according to NBC.
  • “For health care workers, moral injury stemmed from being unable to provide adequate care to dying patients and to seeing others around them flagrantly refuse to take steps to slow the spread of the virus,” said NBC in their coverage of the study.
  • Dangers of moral injury: “The researchers found that those who experienced incidents of potential moral injury suffered from more depression and lower quality of life, a finding that held both among veterans and health care workers,” said the Duke press release.