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Ethical and Professional Dilemmas of Health Care Workers in COVID19 pandemic

Tanuj Sharma, Medha Mathur, Simran Jiwani, Navgeet Mathur, Pranati Vyas, Anjana Verma, Ashish Patyal

Rajasthan Hospital, Jaipur; Community Medicine, Geetanjali Medical College & Hospital, Udaipur; Department of Oncology, Geetanjali Medical College & Hospital, Udaipur; General Medicine, Geetanjali Medical College & Hospital, Udaipur; Undergraduate Student, Pacific Institute of Medical Sciences, Udaipur; Anaesthesiology, Geetanjali Medical College & Hospital, Udaipur

The epidemic of corona virus disease 2019 (COVID19) started from Wuhan, China, December, 2019and have become a major challenging public health problem. (1) On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that this outbreak had constituted a public health emergency of international concern. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, in order to race against time to treat patients, many medical workers from all over the country joined battle against virus. The COVID-19 pandemic poses numerous and substantialethical challenges to health and healthcare including adequate protective equipment, testing and monitoring, violence and about when a vaccine might become available and social restrictions might be lifted. 

In these trying times the debatable professionalism and ethical issues are surging and posing a challenge to integrity of medical profession. Doctors are bided by the Hippocratic Oath (5th century B.C.), which to this day is pledged (often in modified form) at medical school initiation and graduation ceremonies which came after the Code of Hammurabi (2,000 B.C.), the first known code of medical ethics which ensures integrity of the individual doctor. (2) Principles of bioethics including the cardinal pillars of ethics i.e. autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice abides the doctors to maintain confidentiality, profess to cause no harm to patients and should make sure to producing net benefit over harm. (3) The doctor should act fair to the patient on the basis of resource distribution, rights and legal issues. (2)

The thorny dilemmas posed by triage and resource allocation and violence against the doctor also attracted considerable attention. And the debate continues around professionalism and ethics such as declining of treatment, due to the fear of infection from the virus; difficult conversations are being held in suboptimal. Healthcare personnel, meanwhile, are facing moral distress and post-traumatic stress, for some, difficulties arising from undertaking new roles in unfamiliar settings. Whilst patients and public require support, health and social care professionals also need guidance to help navigate the ethical challenges.

Professionalism instils a commitment to peers who join together on the frontlines of medicine. In this way, health professionals resemble soldiers who sacrifice for their comrades in the trenches. And like the military, they accept collective responsibility for their behaviour. We should also recognize that in times of crisis like this, professionalism reinforces the sense of duty, the courage, and even the heroism of millions of clinicians who feel its pull. We would certainly be worse off without it. That is why it is important to be aware of significant forces that threaten professionalism both in the midst of this crisis and beyond it. Protecting health care workers is a sign that society values and respects them for the professionalism they show every day. The global research community must act now to meet needs of patients and health care professionals both in the short term, and when this public health emergency subsides. 

Covid-19 pandemic has raised numerous challenges all around the world. The health care system is at breaking point in many developed countries. Several studies suggested a need to design research for health policy, making the laws and practice grounded simultaneously in rigorous, ethical evidence, the highest standards of professionalism, and the experiences of health care professionals (4-6). The current study was designed to assess the ethical dilemma faced by the health care workers while serving the patients during COVID-19 pandemic.


The study was conducted for 8 weeks of duration in a tertiary care hospital of southern Rajasthan from 15th April 2021 to 15th June 2021. The health care workers serving in COVID-19 wards, intensive care units and outpatient departments were included in the study after availing consent. Based on the previous study prevalence of COVID-19 stress among health care workers was found to be nearly 13% and considering 5% allowable error the sample size calculated was 175. Taking 15% non-response rate, nearly 201 sample size was estimated.

A pre tested and pre validated questionnaire was used for the data collection which included demographic details of study subjects and their knowledge, perception and ethical dilemmas regarding the COVID-19 situation. Questionnaire was administered to the study participants by one-to-one interview technique.

Ethical approval was obtained by the principal investigator and collected data was entered in MS excel and analysed using SPSS-16 software. Statistical analysis was done and appropriate test of significance were applied. P value of <0.05 were considered to be significant.


Total of 201 study subjects were included in the study, out of them 65.2% (131) participants were male while 34.8% (70) were females. The average age of study participants was 29.23±2.45 years. Out of total 201 subjects, 89.1% (179) were involved in COVID-19 direct patient care services, while 10.9% (22) were not involved in direct patient care. The health care
protective providers included in the study were doctors (35.3%), nursing staff (32.8%), Postgraduate students (22.8%), interns (4.9%) and other staff (3.98%) of hospital. 

The knowledge assessment of study subjects about the causative agent, common signs and symptoms, diagnostic tests, precautionary measures revealed that health care workers had adequate knowledge (89.5%) about the subject. The ethical dilemmas were assessed based on various factors and their responses are depicted in the table 1.

The measures of prevention of mental health issues like post-traumaticstress disorders in health care workers can be prevented using following measures like support and encouragement (170; 84.6%), providing good and safe working environment (153; 76.1%), providing adequate rest, nutrition and rotatory duties (162; 80.6%), by sharing their concern and grief (127; 63.2%), by providing counselling (125; 62.2%) while few stated that it is not needed (4; 2%). Respondents selected multiple responses for this item. (Figure 1) 


In the study gender based distributionwas 65.17% (131) males while 34.83% (70) were females where as another study by reported 60.2%females (8). In current study the nursing staff was 32.8% which wasin consensus with the findings of another study conducted in Nepal where 39.8% were the nursing staff. (8) 

The ethical dilemmas faced by health care workers as discussed in the current study were in consensus with the issues discovered and discussed by Menon et al (9) in their work. The issue of non-availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), revelation of COVID-19 positive status of patient and self were discussed in detail by the author who were having similarities with our study. Another study by Jose et al (10) from one of the north Indian tertiary care centres revealed similarities with the current study.

Mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder were reported in current study and have also been mentioned by Ayanian (11) and Verma et al (12) in the work on mental health needs of health care workers on front line in COVID 19 care. Study by Vizheh et al (13) also reported that insomnia, distress, depression and anxiety were commonly reported issues among health care workers in various studies analysed by them in their systematic review.

The modes for prevention of mental ailments were support and encouragement (170; 84.6%), providing good and safe working environment (153; 76.1%), providing adequate rest, nutrition and rotatory duties (162; 80.6%), by sharing their concern and grief (127; 63.2%), by providing counselling (125; 62.2%). The measures stated by Greenberg (14) were similar to the one came out in our study like early support and care of health care workers, proactive actions by health care managers in taking care of mental health of health care workers, arrangement of counselling sessions for health care professionals and their family members.

Study limitations: The study was conducted at single centre with limited number of subjects.


This study concluded thatthe pandemic triggered a situation that unwinds the fact that ethical and professional dilemmas are prevalent among medical health care professionals and they are equally struggling with the issues which is in addition to the responsibility of treating and caring for patients. The healers should be healed first in order to serve the community.

Conflict Of Interest


Source Of Funding


Ethical conduct of research

The authors declare that this review article does not require Institutional Review Board/Ethics review or approval.


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