1. Strand, Mark A. PhD
  2. Sidhu, Savita BA
  3. Hohman, Adam DNP, FNP-BC
  4. Jansen, Rick PhD
  5. McDonough, Stephen MD


Context: Public health professionals around the country faced significant challenges responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting on their experience is an essential element in making sense of their experience and learning from it.


Objective: The objective of this qualitative study was to (1) describe the lived experiences of public health professionals working during the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) discuss the effectiveness of a guided reflection exercise to help public health professionals process these experiences, and (3) provide lessons learned and best practices to inform preparation for a future infectious disease pandemic.


Design: Qualitative focus group study design.


Setting: This activity was conducted at a Midwestern state public health professional meeting.


Participants: Forty-eight public health professionals self-selected to participate in this study.


Results: Five themes were elicited in this analysis, including Communication, Leadership and Collaboration, Data Management, Community Relationships, and Resources and Planning. In addition, public health professionals reported numerous lessons learned, including the need for more leadership from the state government, the conflicted response of their communities, and the benefits of community solidarity where it was present.


Conclusions: This article provides a detailed account of public health workers' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also provides lessons learned that will help public health workers lead more effectively in the future. Guided reflection on a traumatic professional experience can assist participating individuals in making sense of their experience and learning important lessons from it.