Intensive Care Units (ICUs) require the utmost endurance and adaptability from medical providers to continuously care for high-acuity patients. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I used FDA-approved Biofourmis Everion biosensors to collect physiological measures of stress from Registered Nurses (RNs) in local ICUs. These included skin temperature, galvanic skin response, blood pulse wave, energy expenditure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Not only did I apply and monitor the sensors on participants, but also surveyed the cohorts for psychological strain and overall well-being using NASA Task Loading Index questionnaires. The pandemic unfortunately prevented me from continuing to personally collect this data and led me to conduct the remainder of the project remotely. With the collaboration of my PI, Dr. Krzysztof Laudanski, we were able to obtain physiological and psychological measures of stress from RNs who worked 12-hour shifts in COVID-19 units and compare these to those who were assigned standard critical care patients.
The pandemic clearly presents a uniquely challenging environment for healthcare workers as they are faced with complex treatments, novel PPE protocols, and the infectiousness of the virus. Our results reflect that the burden ICU nursing staff face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is both physiological and psychological in nature. These nurses self-reported elevated effort in COVID-19-specific units, which is consistent with the increased energy expenditure measured via the biosensors. Similarly, they experienced more stress-inducing stimuli as demonstrated by increases in phasic galvanic skin response and higher self-reporting of mental demand/strain. Identifying and quantifying this burden is crucial in determining how to alleviate stress for medical providers going forward. I intend to continue researching the dynamics of critical care units in hopes of improving the well-being of healthcare workers and maintaining quality of patient care regardless of unprecedented challenges.
CURF’s funding and support has allowed me to hone my investigative skills via this project as I have become particularly familiar with reviewing existing literature, analyzing raw data, creating figures, and composing manuscripts. Similarly, it has led me to further develop my communication skills and become more adaptable as I worked remotely with colleagues of varying specialties for the majority of the project. I walk away from this experience and towards a future in medicine with an unparalleled understanding of how to efficiently conduct research in the face of unanticipated barriers.
To see my poster, please visit Penn Presents: https://presentations.curf.upenn.edu/poster/toll-covid-19-critical-care-...