DOI: 10.4037/ajcc2023257 ISSN:

“It Haunts Me”: Impact of COVID-19 Deaths on Frontline Clinicians In Acute Care Settings—A Qualitative Study

Julia I. Bandini, Sangeeta C. Ahluwalia, George Timmins, Armenda Bialas, Lisa Meredith, Courtney Gidengil
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • General Medicine


The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented conditions for clinicians providing end-of-life care in acute care settings, yet almost 2 years since the start of the pandemic, little is known about its impact on clinicians.


To qualitatively explore how clinicians experienced their role as they cared for dying patients with COVID-19 during the pandemic and the impact of these experiences on their lives as health care professionals.


In-depth, hour-long interviews were conducted by phone in the spring of 2022 at a single time point with 23 physicians and nurses in critical care and emergency department settings from 2 health systems in California. The goal was to elicit perspectives on experiences with end-of-life care and the long-term impact of these experiences. Clinicians were asked to reflect on the different stages of the pandemic, and interviews were analyzed using a thematic analysis.


The interviews highlighted 2 primary themes around provision of end-of-life care during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, clinicians described challenges around their clinical duties of providing care to dying patients, which included decision-making dilemmas and professionalism challenges. Second, clinicians described the emotional aspects around end-of-life care situations they experienced, including communication with family members, “being patients’ family members” at the end of life, and various degrees of meaning-making and remembrance of these experiences.


The findings highlight the sustained and cumulative emotional challenges and burden clinicians are still shouldering more than 2 years after the start of the pandemic.

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