Table 3

Interpersonal sources of burn-out and embitterment and illustrative quotes

SubthemesIllustrative quotes
Poor collaboration with health centre workers‘The problem was that health center workers couldn’t tolerate malicious civil complaints anymore and dumped them on me… When they implied, ‘You don’t belong here anyway’, I felt embittered. That was the hardest time.’ – FHW4, male
‘I don’t want to meet people anymore. Some health center workers treat me disrespectfully because I’m younger than them… I feel burned out. After I come home, I just don’t want to do anything nowadays.’ – FHW5, female
‘I had to work with health center workers who never managed infectious disease control tasks or those not trained in our system, which we had established so far. I was very exhausted working with them recently.’ – FHW6, female
‘Health center workers told me, ‘Our mayor wants to focus on the Company S case, and (s)he wants to be briefed today.’ I had to prioritize that case over other work.’ – FHW15, male
Conflict with interested parties‘The director of the hospital contacted other hospitals’ directors or doctors associated with the Ministry of Health to intervene in our epidemiological decision.’ – FHW2, female
‘The director contacted me personally and said, ‘How dare you order us cohort isolation? Your work is financially damaging my hospital and how are you going to make it up?’ The director verbally abused me after (s)he somehow found my cell phone number.’ – FHW6, female
‘The school officials indirectly suggested I should extend the range of classification of quarantine… If they are going to [change decisions] like this, why did they even bring me here and make me do this work? I felt doubts about my work.’ – FHW4, male
Hostility from patients and contacts‘The close contacts showed strong objections and aggression toward me. I lost my temper at the health center. All the health center workers were shocked to see me screaming and showing such extreme anger that day.’ – FHW4, male
‘We suffer from verbal abuse and complaints from the public, and sometimes people like business owners chase us or physically attack us when we go to the field… I think it is unfair and unjust. I get enraged at such injustice.’ – FHW6, female
‘The person identified as a close contact was a lawyer. (S)he said I violated the principles of ‘presumption of innocence’ because (s)he might not be infected… The lawyer threatened to sue me.’ – FHW10, male
‘During Cluster Y*, all FHWs in the field were so exhausted both physically and mentally because patients were foreigners who claimed SOFA† as a reason not to cooperate with us. We slept 3 to 4 hours a day, but the investigation still didn’t go well.’ – FHW9, female
  • *Cluster Y occurred at a wine bar near a US military base.

  • †Status of Forces Agreement between South Korea and the US. The agreement limits Korean jurisdiction over legal issues occurred within the US military forces stationed in South Korea.