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"It has been the most difficult time in my career": A qualitative exploration of UK obstetric sonographers' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

Skelton, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-0132-7948, Smith, A., Harrison, G. , Rutherford, M., Ayers, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-6153-2460 & Malamateniou, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-2352-8575 (2023). "It has been the most difficult time in my career": A qualitative exploration of UK obstetric sonographers' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Radiography, 29(3), pp. 582-589. doi: 10.1016/j.radi.2023.03.007


Substantial changes were made to the provision of pregnancy ultrasound services during the COVID-19 pandemic with the intention of minimising virus transmission and maintaining service continuity. Published literature describing the impact of the pandemic on obstetric sonographers is predominantly quantitative in nature, however statistics cannot fully convey sonographers’ voices. This study aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of UK obstetric sonographers performing pregnancy ultrasound scans during the pandemic.

A UK-wide, online, anonymous cross-sectional survey on Qualtrics XMTM was open to responses between 9th March and 6th May 2021. Whilst this survey contained some quantitative elements, open questions were included to capture additional qualitative detail from respondents about their perceptions and experiences of scanning during the pandemic. Key themes were generated from free text responses using thematic analysis.

Written responses were received from 111/138 sonographers participating in the survey. Five themes were generated, depicting the impact of the pandemic on obstetric sonographers: 1) continuity in a crisis; 2) decisions about me, without me; 3) battle scars – the lasting damage of COVID-19; 4) what people think I do vs. what I really do; and 5) the human touch. A cross-cutting theme was sonographers’ feelings of disconnection from senior figures and expectant parents which created a sense of abandonment and distrust.

Survey respondents’ self-reported experiences of ineffective leadership and management, and perceived lack of understanding of the complexity of the sonographer role are potential contributory factors in the high levels of moral injury and occupational burnout reported within the workforce during the pandemic.

Implications for practice
Moral injury support and healing must be prioritised to enable the recovery of the obstetric ultrasound workforce in the post-pandemic era.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: COVID-19, Moral injury, Obstetrics, Pregnancy, Sonographer, Ultrasound
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
SWORD Depositor:
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