Psychological health and wellbeing of primary healthcare workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia: a longitudinal qualitative study

Ee Ming Khoo, Adina Abdullah*, Su May Liew, Norita Hussein, Nik Sherina Hanafi, Ping Yein Lee, Khatijah Lim Abdullah, Lelamekala Vengidasan, Ahmad Ihsan Bin Abu Bakar, Hilary Pinnock, Tracy Jackson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Primary healthcare workers (PHCWs) are at the frontline of dealing with viral pandemics. They may experience significant psychological stresses, which have hitherto not been examined in depth. We aimed to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psychological health and wellbeing of frontline PHCWs in Malaysia. Method: We purposively recruited PHCWs with diverse backgrounds in Klang Valley, Malaysia. Using longitudinal qualitative methods, we conducted two sequential semi-structured telephone interviews, 3 to 4 weeks apart, to capture different stages of the pandemic. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically. Result: Twenty-one PHCWs participated yielding a total of forty-two interviews. Themes clustered around stressors associated with work, home, and leisure activities, emotional changes, and modifying factors. In the first interviews, COVID-19 had just started in Malaysia. Participants expressed fear about the actual and perceived personal risk of COVID-19 infection. Most were worried about transmitting COVID-19 to their family members. Some felt stigmatized because of this perceived risk of infection. By the second interviews, participants felt safer, but instead focused on the need to keep other people safe. Participants’ emotions were influenced by their perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 infection. Internal factors such as religion enabled them to manage their concerns and develop personal coping strategies. Support from family members, colleagues, and employers promoted wellbeing during the pandemic. Training sessions, daily roll calls, and psychological support services were important in maintaining their psychological health and wellbeing. Many participants were hopeful and believed normalcy would return by the end of 2020. Conclusion: PHCW’s psychological health and wellbeing evolved throughout the early stages of the pandemic and were influenced by their perceived risk of contracting the disease and personal belief structures. Clear updates on the disease and strategies for keeping safe at work and socially are essential to maintaining PHCWs’ psychological health and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number261
JournalBMC Primary Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • COVID-19
  • Healthcare workers
  • Longitudinal qualitative study
  • Primary care
  • Psychological impact


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