Burnout Following Moral Injury and Dehumanization: A Study of Distress Among Italian Medical Staff During the First COVID-19 Pandemic Period

Ines Testoni, Elizabeth Brondolo, Lucia Ronconi, Flavia Petrini, Paolo Navalesi, Marco Antonellini, Gianmarco Biancalani, Robert Crupi, Dora Capozza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Italy was the first country outside Asia to deal with the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and health care facilities and medical staff were not fully prepared. Research worldwide has documented the enormous effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care providers’ mental health, including experiences of dehumanization, but less work has focused on factors which may influence the development of these outcomes in response to COVID-19–related stress. Objective: This study examined the association of dehumanization, self-efficacy, and alienation to burnout, depression, and PTSD among medical staff. Potential moderators included moral injury, professional role, COVID workload, and work in a critical care unit (CCU). Method: Participants were recruited through the Internet. The sample consisted of 270medical staffmembers who completed a self-report survey online. Instruments included: Human Traits Attribution Scale for dehumanization; NYP-Queens Survey — Self-Efficacy Subscale for self-efficacy; Moral Injury Events Scale for moral injury; Alienation Scale for alienation; PTSD-8 for posttraumatic stress disorder; Patient Health Questionnaire-9 for depression; and a single item for burnout. The analytic plan included ANOVAs, zero-order correlations, logistic regression analyses, multiple linear regression models, and parallel mediation. Results: Results show that dehumanization was associated with higher levels of burnout, PTSD, and depressive symptoms and effects were consistent across professional role and work context. Dehumanization was significantly associated with PTSD symptoms only among those who had increased COVID-19-related caseloads. Moral injury was positively associatedwith dehumanization, displayed an independent associationwith all 3mental health outcomes, over and above dehumanization, and tended to exacerbate the effects of dehumanization. The effect sizes across analyses were small to medium. Conclusion: This research confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic stressed Italian medical staff in a way not documented in the prepandemic literature. There is a need to support staff in their complex relationships and communication with patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S357-S370
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StatePublished - 4 Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • COVID-19
  • burnout
  • dehumanization
  • distress
  • intensive care
  • moral injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Burnout Following Moral Injury and Dehumanization: A Study of Distress Among Italian Medical Staff During the First COVID-19 Pandemic Period'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this