“I am more me”: Post-traumatic growth for New Zealand healthcare social workers during Covid-19



posttraumatic growth, social worker, healthcare, COVID-19, pandemic, qualitative


INTRODUCTION: The Covid-19 pandemic posed major challenges to healthcare workers working on the front line. Their risk for negative mental health outcomes is well established, and a high volume of research has been directed at the causes, as well as measures to increase workers’ coping and resilience. Further, holistic and salutogenesis-oriented research is emerging directed at the origins of wellness and opportunities to grow after experiencing adversity. We contribute to this evolving research by qualitatively exploring the experience of transformational growth for social workers who worked in healthcare in Aotearoa New Zealand during Covid-19.

METHODS: We conducted semi-structured, online interviews with a sample of six social workers. Their accounts were analysed using an explorative semantic and interpretative form of reflexive thematic analysis, and five main themes were identified. The lens for analysis was Tedeschi and Calhoun’s post-traumatic growth (PTG) theory.

FINDINGS: Participants identified PTG in the form of an increased sense of self and self- identity. They reported significant vocational stresses and deep caring for their patients. They shared a strong occupational self-identification with the social work profession, which might have increased their likelihood of experiencing PTG. Most identified a transformational shift toward paying attention to their own needs.

CONCLUSION: These findings contribute to a new and more holistic perspective for our future pandemic response strategies. Further investigation is suggested to explore the identified shift in the balance between care for others and self-care within the profession.


Aggar, C., Samios, C., Penman, O., Whiteing, N., Massey, D., Rafferty, R., Bowen, K., & Stephens, A. (2022). The impact of COVID-19 pandemic-related stress experienced by Australian nurses. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 31(1), 91–103. https://doi. org/10.1111/inm.12938

Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unravelling the mystery of health: How people manage stress and stay well. Jossey-Bass.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2022). Thematic analysis: A practical guide. SAGE.

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021, (LI 2021/94) – New Zealand Legislation. http:// www.legislation.govt.nz

Croghan, I. T., Chesak, S. S., Adusumalli, J., Fischer, K. M., Beck, E. W., Patel, S. R., Ghosh, K., Schroeder, D. R., & Bhagra, A. (2021). Stress, resilience, and coping of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, 12, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1177/21501327211008448

Cui, P. P., Wang, P. P., Wang, K., Ping, Z., Wang, P., & Chen, C. (2021). Post-traumatic growth and influencing factors among frontline nurses fighting against COVID-19. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 78(2), 129–135. https://doi.org/10.1136/oemed-2020-106540

Feingold, J. H., Hurtado, A., Feder, A., Peccoralo, L., Southwick, S. M., Ripp, J., & Pietrzak, R. H. (2022). Posttraumatic growth among healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Affective Disorders, 296, 35–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jad.2021.09.032

Fontanini, R., Visintini, E., Rossettini, G., Caruzzo, D., Longhini, J., & Palese, A. (2021). Italian nurses’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative analysis of internet posts. International Nursing Review, 68(2), 238–247. https://doi.org/10.1111/inr.12669

Koontalay, A., Suksatan, W., Prabsangob, K., & Sadang, J. M. (2021). Healthcare workers’ burdens during the COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative systematic review. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 14, 3015–3025. https://doi.org/10.2147/JMDH.S330041

Liu, Q., Luo, D., Haase, J. E., Guo, Q., Wang, X. Q., Liu, S., Xia, L., Liu, Z., Yang, J., & Yang, B. X. (2020). The experiences of health-care providers during the COVID-19 crisis in China: A qualitative study. The Lancet Global Health, 8(6), 790–798. https://doi. org/10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30204-7

Magnavita, N., Chirico, F., Garbarino, S., Bragazzi, N. L., Santacroce, E., & Zaffina, S. (2021). Sars/mers/sars-cov-2 outbreaks and burnout syndrome among healthcare workers. An umbrella systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084361

Ministry of Health (2020) COVID-19 health and disability system response plan. Wellington, Ministry of Health. Retrieved 26 November 2020. Available at https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/covid-19-health-and-disability-system-response-plan

Ministry of Health. (2021). Health and Independence Report 2020: The Director-General of Health’s annual report on the state of public health. Health and Independence Report 2020 | Ministry of Health NZ

Mo, Y., Tao, P., Liu, G., Chen, L., Li, G., Lu, S., Zhang, G., Liang, R., & Huang, H. (2022). Post-traumatic growth of nurses who faced the COVID-19 epidemic and its correlation with professional self-identity and social support. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://doi. org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.562938

Moreno-Jiménez, J. E., Blanco-Donoso, L. M., Demerouti, E., Hofheinz, S. B., Chico-Fernández, M., Moreno-Jiménez, B., & Garrosa, E. (2021). The role of healthcare professionals’ passion in predicting secondary traumatic stress and posttraumatic growth in the face of COVID-19: A longitudinal approach. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9). https:// doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18094453

Rajkumar, R. P. (2021). Suffering and salutogenesis: A conceptual analysis of lessons for psychiatry from existential positive psychology (PP2.0) in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.646334

Stuijfzand, S., Deforges, C., Sandoz, V., Sajin, C. T., Jaques, C., Elmers, J., & Horsch, A. (2020). Psychological impact of an epidemic/pandemic on the mental health of healthcare professionals: A rapid review. BMC Public Health, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09322-z

Sun, P., Wang, M., Song, T., Wu, Y., Luo, J., Chen, L., & Yan, L. (2021). The psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic on health care workers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.626547

Tedeschi, R. G., Shakespeare-Finch, J., Taku, K., & Calhoun, L. G. (2018). Posttraumatic growth: Theory, research, and applications. Routledge.

Veronese, G., Mahamid, F. A., & Bdier, D. (2022). Subjective well-being, sense of coherence, and posttraumatic growth mediate the association between COVID-19 stress, trauma, and burnout among Palestinian health- care providers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. https://doi.org/doi:10.1037/ort0000606

World Health Organisation. (2023). WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. https://covid19.who.int/

Zhang, X. T., Shi, S. S., Ren, Y. Q., & Wang, L. (2021). The traumatic experience of clinical nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic: Which factors are related to post- traumatic growth? Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 14, 2145–2151. https://doaj.org/article/91e66ae3 ade84aa4b5140d497b5f8f1b




How to Cite

Becker, C., Napan, K., & Jülich , S. (2024). “I am more me”: Post-traumatic growth for New Zealand healthcare social workers during Covid-19. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 36(2), 10–23. Retrieved from https://anzswjournal.nz/anzsw/article/view/1107



Original Articles