Thompson Rivers University

Mapping the resiliency of frontline health-care workers

  Posted on: July 14, 2020

Dr. Bala Nikku, assistant professor, social work.

How has working in a pandemic impacted the mental health of frontline health-care workers? For those who are coping well, what has made them resilient?

Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Dr. Bala Nikku, assistant professor of social work, is leading a team of researchers determined to map the social epidemiology of frontline care workers during COVID-19. In partnership with Dr. Graham Dodd and Rhonda Eden of the Thompson Region Division of Family Practice, Nikku is working with UBC social work faculty Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim and TRU computer science professor Dr. Mohamed Tawhid on the project, which is expected to be complete within the next year. 

Stress, anxiety lead to burnout

Researchers know frontline health-care workers often suffer from untreated guilt, anxiety and depression as a result of their work, and that this can lead to poor job performance and burnout. This research aims to discover how gender, race, age and geographic location intersect to impact occupational well-being and resiliency. 

“We want to know what is happening with our frontline workers and their lives. Some are in organized and unionized positions; others work for private employers. We want to know more about their well-being and how are they managing their critical care work and lives especially during the COVID pandemic,” Nikku said.

The study will involve 100 care workers and will include workers with health authorities, non-profits and private industry, in home care and long-term-care facilities. The research uses a robust mixed methodology including surveys, qualitative interviews and agent-based modelling to provide a depth of insights into occupational well-being and resiliency of care workers. 

“If, out of 100 people, we find some are doing really well while others are not, we want to be able to explain this. Does a social network impact this? Does being in a union?” Nikku asked.

Agent-based modelling

Using data science to conduct agent-based modelling is new for Nikku and exciting for the social work field; modelling helps the researchers identify how frontline workers are making decisions and the factors that influence those decisions.

“We can simulate and see different models and that information will be useful for health policy makers in BC and beyond,” he said. In developing this exciting and crucial research, Nikku acknowledges the peer mentoring support from Dr. Bonnie Fournier and Dr. Nicola Waters from TRU’s School of Nursing, and Dr. Megan Prins of the TRU Research Office.  

Dr. Bala Nikku, assistant professor