University of Regina researcher examines stigmatization of healthcare workers in North America during the COVID-19 pandemic

News Release Release Date: August 24, 2020 3:00 p.m.

While communities were coming together at 7 p.m. and cheering for healthcare workers, praising essential workers on social media, and hanging hearts in their windows, new research shows that there have been widespread stigmatizing attitudes towards healthcare workers since the pandemic began. In a new study published this week by the University of Regina’s Dr. Gordon Asmundson, psychology professor and registered doctoral psychologist, he finds that fear and avoidance of healthcare workers has become a concerning problem caused by COVID-19.

In this study, Dr. Asmundson and Dr. Steven Taylor from the University of British Columbia surveyed over 3,500 non-healthcare workers from the United States and Canada. The questions in the survey included measures of each individual’s attitudes toward healthcare workers, COVID Stress Syndrome, and avoidance. They found over one quarter of respondents believed that healthcare workers should have severe restrictions placed on their freedoms. This includes being kept in isolation from their communities and their families. Over one third of respondents also avoided healthcare workers in public and in their daily lives because they feared becoming infected.

“Our findings are important in showing that while people are cheering the efforts of their local healthcare workers from the safety of their homes, many are also fearful that they may be a source of contagion within the community, says Asmundson. “Public education is clearly needed to curb fear and stigmatization of this group of workers who are so important to our health and well-being.”

This is not the first time that healthcare workers have faced negative perceptions by members of their community. During past disease outbreaks (such as SARS), some people avoided contact with healthcare workers, fearing that they were a source of infection. This study is the first systematic evaluation of healthcare worker stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals who have developed a negative perception of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may also be experiencing COVID Stress Syndrome. The study found that the people who stigmatized healthcare workers also tended to avoid other people, avoid drug stores and supermarkets, and avoid leaving their homes.

“This is an incredibly important, timely study that has given us insight on the current perceptions of healthcare workers,” says Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research). “Dr. Asmundson and Dr. Taylor’s work is helping us to better understand the impact that COVID-19 can have on a person’s mental health.”

Fear and Avoidance of Healthcare Workers: An Important, Under-Appreciated Problem During the COVID-19 Pandemic was recently published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Read more about the study here:


About The University of Regina:

The University of Regina—with campuses located on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories, the ancestral lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda nations and the homeland of the Métis—is a comprehensive, mid-sized university that traces its roots back to the creation of Regina College in 1911. Today, more than 16,500 students study within the University's 10 faculties, 25 academic departments/schools, 18 research centres and institutes, and three federated colleges (Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, and Luther College). The University of Regina has an established reputation for excellence and innovative programs that lead to undergraduate, master, and doctoral degrees.


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