The psychological impact of COVID-19 on the well-being of doctors in training


Session type:

Emma Higgins1, Sheena Lam, Rhiannon Evans, Claire Bartholomew, John Chester, Kate Hammond, Louise Hanna
1South West Cancer Centre



The recent SARS-Cov-2 pandemic led to the re-organisation of healthcare services, impacting training programmes across the UK. Evidence from China suggested that facing this largescale infectious public health event, medical staff were under both physical and psychological pressure1. The General Medical Council recognises three core needs of doctors to minimise workplace stress –autonomy, belonging and competence2. This self-determination theory claims that when the aforementioned basic needs are satisfied, personal well-being and social development are optimised3. To that end, we sought to establish the impact of the pandemic on trainee well-being with emphasis on testing the principles of behavioural change relating to self-determination theory.


A questionnaire survey of doctors in training working in the Velindre Cancer Centre during May 2020


Eighteen responses were received achieving an 80% response rate. 53% of trainees reported changes in their well-being. Although all felt happy/content at least once a week, 78% also felt ‘down’ and 89% felt anxious or frustrated at least once a week. Competence was threatened with all trainees reporting difficulty keeping abreast of changing guidelines and protocols. Autonomy was threatened with all trainees expressing concern about uncertainty of re-deployment to a new area. Furthermore 87% of trainees reported a negative impact on training, with cancellation of training events, changes to clinical management, and missed opportunities due to self-isolation or illness. 87% reported more on-calls and greater work intensity. All doctors felt colleagues were supportive and they had adequate supervision ‘always’ or ‘most of the time’. Trainees reported talking to colleagues, family and friends, and exercise as the most common strategies to promote their well-being.


The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on working lives of trainee doctors. Concerns relating to changing guidelines and lack of control over changes to training appeared to negatively impact on well-being, while talking to colleagues and supervisors were important coping strategies, demonstrating the importance of meeting the core needs of autonomy, competence and belonging to minimise workplace stress and promote well-being of trainees.  


Impact statement

In an increasingly socially distanced and virtual world, our study highlights the importance of personal connectivity and human to human interactions in team working.