Preparing for next time

New COVID-19 research aims to support the mental health and wellbeing of rural healthcare workers for future adverse events

Learning the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic requires the hard work and dedication of researchers like Georgia Petrou.

Georgia’s PhD is part of the first Australian study to look at the psychological impacts of COVID-19 on rural and regional healthcare workers.

With a background in psychology, Georgia jumped at the chance to be involved in the study led by La Trobe Rural Health School and Bendigo Health.

“I knew that rural health is often overlooked when it comes to mental health, so I was instantly interested in how this work could make a difference and support the health system to be better prepared for the next pandemic or adverse event.”

Georgia crunched data obtained over a 12-month period from 1313 healthcare workers from 24 health services within the Loddon Mallee region.

While she found most rural healthcare workers demonstrated normal to high levels of resilience, 26% showed moderate to severe anxiety symptoms and 20% showed signs of depression. 

Now in the final stretch of her PhD, Georgia is looking at the causal factors behind the symptoms with a view to make recommendations for system improvements.

“Our study included modifiable factors such as workplace preparedness, and whether there was a sufficient amount of Personal Protective Equipment, that could potentially inform changes in the healthcare system.”

“I hope the findings and recommendations will help healthcare providers take stronger preventative measures to support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.”

Looking back on her research journey, Georgia said the collaboration with supervisors stood out as a highlight.

“I’ve been really lucky to have three great supervisors who work so well as a team and share their knowledge so generously.”

“Even though I’ve done honours and Masters, a PhD is so much more complex. I’ve been exposed to methods of analysis I haven’t done before.”

“My advice to students thinking about a PhD is to start by letting go of the idea of being an expert and being open to new knowledge, experiences and ways of doing research.”