Qualitative interview study of strategies to support healthcare personnel mental health through an occupational health lens

We explored employee occupational health roles in supporting healthcare personnel mental health—including their own—as part of an occupational health needs assessment conducted between July 2020 and April 2021. We conducted key informant qualitative interviews with VHA occupational health clinicians using snowball sampling. Potential participants were each contacted through email a maximum of three times and invited to participate in a research interview. Interviews on topics such as population management, staffing, information sharing and role changes were conducted by phone by trained qualitative researchers (CB-J and MM) and recorded through Microsoft Teams. Notably, questions about mental health were formally added to our interview guide once multiple participants discussed this topic in our interviews (see box 1 for interview questions focused on mental health and Online supplemental appendix A for the full interview guide for the overarching needs assessment). Participants provided verbal consent for audio recording. Structured research notes were taken during interviews, and audio recordings were transcribed verbatim.

Box 1

Interview questions related to mental health

What is the role of occupational health in addressing mental health needs, if at all?

What is the volume of this need?

What is happening around (mental health) at your site?

How would you ideally want or need to support mental health needs for healthcare workers?

How would you ideally want or need to support mental health needs for you and your occupational health team?

What ideas do you have for preventing burn-out in the workforce?

What other ideas do you have to help healthcare personnel?

  • Notes: Our initial interview guide covered topics of population management, staffing, information sharing and role changes. In a November 2020 revision to our interview guide, questions about mental health were added in response to multiple discussions with participants around the need for occupational health to support healthcare personnel mental health. Both the initial guide and additive mental health questions were developed by team members with qualitative research expertise (CB-J, MM and KG), with input from two occupational health subject-matter experts (WT a physician and SG a nurse practitioner). Interview guides were additionally reviewed by research advisors with expertise in health services research (SJS, KL and EMY). Our analysis examined the mental health needs of VHA employees as identified by occupational health clinicians, and the approaches and interventions identified by occupational health clinicians that can support the mental health of employees.

  • VHA, Veterans Health Administration.

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