OBJECTIVE: Past literature establishes high prevalence of burn-out among intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, and the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic in intensifying burn-out. However, the specific pandemic-related contributors and practical approaches to address burn-out have not been thoroughly explored. To address this gap, this work focuses on investigating the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the burn-out experiences of ICU nurses and identifying practical approaches for burn-out mitigation. DESIGN: Semistructured focus group interviews were conducted via convenience sampling and qualitatively analysed to identify burn-out contributors and mitigators. Maslach Burnout Inventory for Medical Personnel (MBI-MP) and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-5) were employed to quantify the prevalence of burn-out of the participants at the time of study. SETTING: Two ICUs designated as COVID-19 ICUs in a large metropolitan tertiary care hospital in the Greater Houston area (Texas, USA). PARTICIPANTS: Twenty registered ICU nurses (10 from each unit). RESULTS: Participants experienced high emotional exhaustion (MBI-MP mean score 32.35, SD 10.66), moderate depersonalisation (M 9.75, SD 7.10) and moderate personal achievement (M 32.05, SD 7.59) during the pandemic. Ten out of the 20 participants exhibited post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms (PCL-5 score >33). Regarding contributors to burn-out in nurses during the pandemic, five thematic levels emerged-personal, patient related, coworker related, organisational and societal-with each factor comprising several subthemes (eg, emotional detachment from patients, constant need to justify motives to patients' family, lack of staffing and resources, and politicisation of COVID-19 and vaccination). Participants revealed several practical interventions to help overcome burn-out, ranging from mental health coverage to educating public on the severity of the pandemic and importance of vaccination. CONCLUSIONS: By identifying the contributors to burn-out in ICU nurses at a systems level, the study findings inform the design and implementation of effective interventions to prevent or mitigate pandemic-related burn-out among nurses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e065989
JournalBMJ open
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 16 2022


  • Adult intensive & critical care
  • COVID-19

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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