Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Social Work Students

Burnout and Resilience During a Global Pandemic




Burnout, COVID-19, resilience, social work education


COVID-19 had a profound impact on teaching and learning at academic institutions across the globe. This study examined the experiences of social work students (n = 884) during the pandemic and their associated level of burnout. Using a mixed methods approach, data from an online survey within a school of social work at a large Midwestern university were examined using stepwise regression and thematic analysis. Student demographics, academic characteristics, and experiences with COVID-19 were examined as predictors of burnout. Resilience was tested as a moderator of the association between COVID-19 experiences and burnout. Regression models accounted for 34.3% to 45.5% of variance across three domains of burnout (i.e., exhaustion, cynicism, and professional/academic efficacy), with COVID-related experiences accounting for most of the variance. Although resilience had a significant main effect, the interactions of resilience and COVID-19 experiences were not significant. Quantitative results were illuminated by thematic analysis of the qualitative data from which emerged four major themes: online teaching pedagogy, impact of COVID-19, transition of teaching and learning, and affective domains of learning. Engaging in humanistic education is discussed as a possible approach to circumvent burnout, bolster student resilience, and encourage academic success.

Author Biography

John M. Keesler, Indiana University

Assistant Professor

School of Social Work


Afrouz, R. (2021). Approaching uncertainty in social work education, a lesson from COVID-19 pandemic. Qualitative Social Work, 20(1-2), 561-567.

Aguinis, H., & Gottfredson, R. K. (2010). Best-practice recommendations for estimating interaction effects using moderated multiple regression. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 776-786.

Apgar, D., & Cadmus, T. (2021). Using mixed methods to assess the coping and self-regulation skills of undergraduate social work students impacted by COVID-19. Clinical Social Work Journal, 50, 55-66.

Baethge, A., Vahle-Hinz, T., Schulte-Braucks, J., & van Dick, R. (2018). A matter of time? Challenging and hindering effects of time pressure on work engagement. Work & Stress, 32(3), 228-247.

Banks, S., Cai, T., De Jonge, E., Shears, J., Shum, M., Sobočan, A. M., Strom, K., Truell, R., Jesús Úriz, M., & Weinberg, M. (2020). Practising ethically during COVID-19: Social work challenges and responses. International Social Work, 63(5), 569-583.

Barzilay, R., Moore, T. M., Greenberg, D. M., DiDomenico, G. E., Brown, L. A., White, L. K., & Gur, R. E. (2020). Resilience, COVID-19-related stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic in a large population enriched for healthcare providers. Translational Psychiatry, 10(1), 1-8.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Carter, N., Bryant-Lukosius, D., DiCenso, A., Blythe, J., & Neville, A. J. (2014). The use of triangulation in qualitative research. Oncology Nursing Forum, 41(5), 545-547.

Council on Social Work Education. (2020). CSWE and Commission on Accreditation Statement.

De La Rosa, G. M., Webb-Murphy, J. A., & Johnston, S. L. (2016). Development and validation of a brief measure of psychological resilience: An adaptation of the response to stressful experiences scale. Military Medicine, 181(3), 202-208.

Diebold, J., Kim, W., & Elze, D. (2018). Perceptions of self-care among MSW students: Implications for social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 54(4), 657-667.

Dong, Y., & Peng, C. J. (2013). Principled missing data methods for researcher. SpringerPlus, 2, 222.

Earle, M., & Freddolino, P. P. (2021). Meeting the practice challenges of COVID-19: MSW students’ perceptions of e-therapy and the therapeutic alliance. Clinical Social Work Journal, 50, 76-85.

García-Izquierdo, M., Meseguer de Pedro, M., Ríos-Risquez, I., & Sánchez, I. (2018). Resilience as a moderator of psychological health in situations of chronic stress (burnout) in a sample of hospital nurses. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 50(2), 228-236.

Gliem, J. A., & Gliem, R. R. (2003). Calculating, interpreting, and reporting Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient for Likert-type scales. Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education.

Gonzalez-Ramirez, J., Mulqueen, K., Zealand, R., Silverstein, S., Mulqueen, C., & BuShell, S. (2021). Emergency online learning: College students' perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. College Student Journal, 55(1), 29-46.

Hirsch, J., Rabon, J., Reynolds, E., Barton, A., & Chang, E. (2019). Perceived stress and suicidal behaviors in college students: Conditional indirect effects of depressive symptoms and mental health stigma. Stigma and Health, 4(1), 98-106.

Holmes, E. A., O’Connor, R. C., Perry, V. H., Tracey, I., Wessely, S., Arseneault, L., Ballard, C., Christensen, H., Cohen Silver, R., Everall, I., Ford, T., John, A., Kabir, T., King, K., Madan, I., Michie, S., Przybylski, A. K., Shafran, R., Sweeney, A., …Bullmore, E. (2020). Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for action for mental health science. Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 547-560.

Hosmer, D. W., & Lemeshow S. (2000). Applied logistic regression (2nd ed.). Wiley.

Hung, E. N., Lee, T., & Cheung, J. (2021). Practising social work groups online: Practitioners’ reflection on the COVID-19 outbreak. International Social Work, 64(5), 756-760.

Keesler, J. M., & Troxel, J. (2020). They care for others, but what about themselves? Understanding self-care among DSPs and its relationship to professional quality of life. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 58(3), 221-240.

Khatib, M., Sarem, S. N., & Hamidi, H. (2013). Humanistic education: Concerns, implications and applications. Journal of language teaching & research, 4(1), 45-51.

Lawrence, S. A., Garcia, J., Stewart, C., & Rodriguez, C. (2021). The mental and behavioral health impact of COVID-19 stay at home orders on social work students. Social Work Education, 41(4), 707-721.

Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2016). Latent burnout profiles: A new approach to understanding the burnout experience. Burnout Research, 3, 89-100.

Leppink, E., Odlaug, B., Lust, K., Christenson, G., & Grant, J. (2016). The young and the stressed: Stress, impulse control, and health in college students. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204(12), 931-938. 000586

Maslow, A. H. (1965). Self-actualization and beyond. Center for the Study of Liberal Education for Adults. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED012056)

Mishna, F., Milne, E., Bogo, M., & Pereira, L. F. (2021). Responding to COVID-19: New trends in social workers’ use of information and communication technology. Clinical Social Work Journal, 49, 484-494.

Morgan, B., de Bruin, G. P., & de Bruin, K. (2014). Operationalizing burnout in the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey: Personal efficacy versus personal inefficacy. South African Journal of Psychology, 44(2), 216-227.

Murat, M., Köse, S., & Savaşer, S. (2020). Determination of stress, depression and burnout levels of front‐line nurses during the COVID‐19 pandemic. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 30(2), 533-543.

National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.

Nishimura, Y., Miyoshi, T., Hagiya, H., Kosaki, Y., & Otsuka, F. (2021). Burnout of healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic: A Japanese cross-sectional survey. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(5), 1-8.

Nteveros, A., Kyprianou, M., Artemiadis, A., Charalampous, A., Christoforaki, K., Cheilidis S., Germanos, O., Bargiotas, P., Chatzittofis, A., & Zis, P. (2020). Burnout among medical students in Cyprus: A cross-sectional study. PloS ONE, 15(11), 1-10.

Pérez-Mármol, J. M., & Brown, T. (2019). An examination of the structural validity of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey (MBI-SS) using the Rasch measurement model. Health Professions Education, 5(3), 259-274.

Poole, J., C., Dobson, K. S., & Pusch, D. (2017). Childhood adversity and adult depression: The proactive role of psychological resilience. Child Abuse & Neglect, 64, 89-100.

Portoghese, I., Leiter, M. P., Maslach, C., Galletta, M., Porru, F., D’Aloja, E., Finco, G., & Campagna, M. (2018). Measuring burnout among university students: Factorial validity, invariance, and latent profiles of the Italian version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory Student Survey (MBI-SS). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1-9.

Quintana, C. (2020). College closings: More than 100 colleges cancel in-person classes and move online. USA Today.

Reznik, A., Gritsenko, V., Konstantinov, V., Yehudai, M., Bender, S., Shilina, I., & Isralowitz, R. (2021). First and second wave Covid-19 fear impact: Israeli and Russian social work student fear, mental health and substance use. International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction, 20, 1806-1813.

Roming, S., & Howard, K. (2019). Coping with stress in college: An examination of spirituality, social support, and quality of life. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 22(8), 832-843.

Rossi, R., Jannini, T. B., Socci, V., Pacitti, F., & Lorenzo, G. D. (2021). Stressful life events and resilience during the COVID-19 lockdown measures in Italy: Association with mental health outcomes and age. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, 1-8.

Saltzman, L. Y., Terzis, L. D., Hansel, T. C., Blakely, J. M., Logan, D., & Bordnick, P. S. (2021). Harnessing technology for research during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed methods diary study protocol. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 20, 1-8.

SAS Institute Inc. (2013). SAS/ACCESS® 9.4 Interface to ADABAS: SAS Institute Inc.

Schaufeli, W. B., Martínez, I. M., Pinto, A. M., Salanova, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). Burnout and engagement in university students: A cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33, 464-481.

Shi, W. (2019). Health information seeking versus avoiding: How do college students respond to stress-related information? American Journal of Health Behavior, 43(2), 437-448.

Smalley, A. (2020). Higher education responses to coronavirus (COVID-19). National Conference of State Legislatures.

Smith, D., Frey, N., Pumpian, I., & Fisher, D. (2017). Building equity: Policies and practices to empower all learners. ASCD.

Smoyer, A. B., O’Brien, K., & Rodriguez-Keyes, E. (2020). Lessons learned from COVID-19: Being known in online social work classrooms. International Social Work, 63(5), 651-654.

Sveinsdóttir, H., Flygenring, B. G., Svavarsdóttir, M. H., Thorsteinsson, H. S., Kristófersson, G. K., Bernharðsdóttir, J., & Svavarsdóttir, E. K. (2021). Predictors of university nursing students burnout at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study. Nurse Education Today, 106, 1-8.

University of Buffalo. (2023). Self-Care Starter (SM).

World Health Organization. (2020, March 7). Responding to community spread of COVID-19: Interim guidance.

Wilkerson, D. A., Wolfe-Taylor, S. N., Deck, C., Wahler, E. A., Davis, T. S. (2020). Telebehavioral practice basics for social worker educators and clinicians responding to COVID-19. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 39(8), 1137-1145.