Tired Healthcare Workers Are Turning to TikTok

Tired healthcare workers.

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Key Takeaways

  • Healthcare workers are documenting the stress of working in hospitals and the ICU during the pandemic on TikTok using the hashtag #TiredHealthcareWorker.
  • Hospitals across the nation are dealing with ICU bed and labor shortages.
  • The physical demands of the job and psychological strain are taking a toll.

From Massachusetts to Wisconsin, hospitals nationwide are reporting intensive care unit (ICU) bed shortages. These shortages have left healthcare workers with no choice but to work overtime with limited resources.

To document the stress of working in the ICU and to shed light on what it’s like working in hospitals during the public health crisis, healthcare workers, especially nurses, have taken their experiences on TikTok using the hashtag, #TiredHealthcareWorker.

According to Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, chief nurse of Wolters Kluwer, #TiredHealthcareWorker symbolizes the exhaustion and tiredness that healthcare workers feel after having worked a year and a half in a global pandemic with limited resources and staffing shortages. 

“If healthcare workers can put their message up on TikTok to say, ‘Look, this is no joke. This is really hard work. We are tired. We’re exhausted. Look at our faces to see what the truth is about COVID-19 and the Delta variant,’” Woods tells Verywell. “I think that’s a very powerful message.”

Long Hours and Labor Shortages

#TiredHealthcareWorker also represents the toll that working in the hospital has had on healthcare workers’ mental health.

One healthcare worker posted a video on TikTok saying that she worked her shift without any breaks.

“So I just got home after a 12 and a half hour shift in the COVID world. I didn’t get a breakfast. I didn’t get a lunch, I didn’t even get to drink water today,” Jess Nicki, a healthcare worker, said in a TikTok video using the hashtag.

In addition to working prolonged work shifts, Nicki shared the emotional toll her work is taking. “I have three different patients’ blood on my scrubs. I saw people grab my hand and tell me to help them to live and they don’t wanna die,” Nicki added while crying.

These sentiments are echoed by nurses across the country.

Ivette Palomeque, RN, a travel nurse currently based in Texas, tells Verywell her work shift typically ran for 12 hours pre-pandemic. However, due to the COVID-19 surges and overflow of patients in the ICU, she has had to work 13 to 15-hour shifts with limited resources.

Hospitals have not been properly equipped with sufficient supplies such as ventilators, IV pumps, and personal protective equipment (PPE), she says. Working with limited means has been a source of Palomeque’s stress and anxiety.

“It’s the stress of how to get the job done adequately with what little we have,” Palomeque says. “We’re tired. The demands placed on us have been unreal.”

Additionally, hospitals are experiencing nurse shortages, adding to existing nurses’ stress. Palomeque explains that the normal nurse-to-patient ratio is two patients for one nurse. When ICUs are overwhelmed, it becomes three patients for one nurse.

“I’m getting three patients, which is not safe,” Palomeque stresses. Given the severity of critically ill patients, small nurse-to-patient ratios allow staff to account for changes in the patients’ needs, and to discharge and transfer patients in a timely manner.

The stressors of the job are deterrents for nurse retention. A survey found that among the 22% of nurses who said they might leave their current positions, 60% said they were more likely to leave since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the physical demands of the job and psychological strain from seeing their patients die.

“It’s the absolute truth. We’re really tired. We are burned out. We’ve lost that resilience to keep going. We became nurses or healthcare professionals to help people in need. We feel like we’re doing that. But the bottom line is, you get to a point where it’s harming you more being in this profession,” Woods says. “What I don’t want to see happen is people leaving the nursing profession, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

By 2030, the demand for nurses will supersede the supply of nurses. California is projected to have the most severe shortage, with a shortage of nearly 45,000 nurses by 2030. States like Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina are also expected to bear the brunt of it.

What This Means For You

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and isn’t sure where to get help, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s confidential, free, and runs 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year. It’s available in English and Spanish. If you call this helpline, they can give you referrals to local treatment centers, support groups, and other organizations.

Encouraging Vaccination Through TikTok

Woods is hopeful that TikTok can spread a wider message about the struggles healthcare workers are currently facing, especially among unvaccinated folks.

“I think it’s great that [healthcare workers] are doing TikTok,” Woods says. “TikTok caters to people who are 30 years and younger. That’s the group that we’re seeing who are unvaccinated.”

People who haven’t been vaccinated are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We can shed light on the reality of what it takes to be a healthcare worker, caring for these people who have COVID, the impact that has on us, and the truth about what it’s like to be really sick, and on a ventilator,” Woods adds. “Hopefully, it’ll spur somebody to take the right measures, to follow the science, and get themselves vaccinated.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wisconsin Department of Health Services. COVID-19: hospitals.

  2. McKinsey & Company. Nursing: retaining the healthcare workforce when we need it most.

  3. University of St. Augustine. The American nursing shortage: a data study.

  4. Griffin J, Haddix M, Danza P et al. SARS-CoV-2 infections and hospitalizations among persons aged ≥16 years, by vaccination status — Los Angeles County, California, May 1–July 25, 2021MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(34):1170-1176. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7034e5

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.