Call for action: Building a resilient and adaptable youth health workforce

16 November 2022

The Youth Hub is an intersectoral, inter-professional community of practice hosted by the Global Health Workforce Network (GWHN) and the Health Workforce Department at the WHO. The hub focuses on youth employment in health and social care, and aims to engage and include youth-inclusive policy to drive the Human Resources for Health (HRH) agenda.


Echoing the theme of the International Year of Health and Care Workers “Protect. Invest. Together”, the Global Health Workforce Network Youth Hub organised in May 2021 an online conference with the theme of “Building a resilient and adaptable youth health workforce” to discuss the importance of protecting youth health and care workers from burnout and indecent working conditions and of the urgent need to invest in the future health workforce. Based on the gathered feedback from thousands of young people and their organisations, the Youth Hub calls on key stakeholders and the global community to take action supporting youth health and care workers globally.


The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected health workers, and particularly the youth, in multiple ways:


Overworked and longer work hours

Youth health and care workers are involved in every aspect of fighting the pandemic from working frontline jobs to working in healthcare administration, healthcare management, local and national policy, vaccination drives, and more. The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges for youth health and care workers, who are often already overworked and overstretched in many parts of the health systems1. In many countries, young people have been forced to work longer hours with less supervision and often without pay, have had their training pathways affected by redeployment and critical staff shortages, have been exposed to COVID-19 without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), and have suffered personal loss, tragedy and grief 2,3.


Women more affected

A recently published systematic review found a 23% prevalence of depression and anxiety, and 39% prevalence of insomnia in health and care workers working during the COVID-19 pandemic4. Furthermore, these effects appear to be further exacerbated in young female health and care workers5. Women are more likely to perform unpaid care work in the home, including caring for aged or sick relatives, and caring for children. With school closures, lockdowns and high community transmission, COVID-19 has increased the unpaid care burden, resulting in decreased wellbeing and mental health of female health and care workers6,7. Many women have been forced to adjust their working hours to manage the workload. They have also missed out on gaining experience and leadership opportunities due to their increased responsibilities outside of work during the pandemic8.


Positive outcomes of COVID-19

It should be noted that despite the many hardships brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have also been positive outcomes. Governments have taken unprecedented steps to suppress viral spread, strengthen health systems, and prioritise public health concerns9. Furthermore, there have been advances in the utilisation of digital health, in particular taking advantage of emerging telehealth solutions, which may continue to provide benefits in post-pandemic healthcare10. Digital health tools may help to increase access to healthcare for people living in rural and remote locations who generally experience location-based disadvantages11.


Benefits of investing in youth health and care workers

The experiences from this pandemic should also create, or even demand, opportunities for increased and stronger investment into the youth health workforce, enabling an environment in which youth health and care workers are adequately supported and have access to the tools they need to learn and grow in their careers. Investment into youth health and care workers and improvement of working conditions will also create more effective and sustainable health systems, underpinned by a motivated and resilient workforce, that will benefit the health of current and future generations.


The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing difficulties for youth health and care workers who are frequently exhausted and overstretched in numerous health duties. Engaging and supporting them will create more effective and sustainable health systems fostered by a motivated and resilient workforce. This will in turn, positively benefit the health of current and future generations. We call upon all relevant stakeholders within low, lower-middle, upper-middle and high-income countries to support and invest in youth health and care workers and improve their working conditions.


Access the Call for Action here:


By: the GHWN Youth Hub





  1. GHWN Youth Hub. Youth and decent work in the health and social care sector. World Health Organization, 3 February, 2020. Available from: . [Accessed 19 June, 2021].
  2. Gibson, A, Willyard, C. COVID-19 Crisis Exposes Resident Abuse.[April 28, 2020] Medscape. Available from: . [Accessed 1 October, 2021].
  3. Gallagher, T.H., Schleyer, A.M. “We Signed Up for This!”—Student and Trainee Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(25), e96.
  1. Pappa, S, Ntella, V, Giannakas, T et al. Prevalence of depression, anxiety, and insomnia among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 88, 901–907.
  1. The United Nations. (2020). Unpaid care work in times of the COVID-19 crisis: Gendered impacts, emerging evidence and promising policy responses. Available from: . [Accessed 1 October, 2021].
  1. Rimmer, A. (2021). Covid-19: Female doctors felt compelled to step up during the pandemic, says BMA. BMJ, 372, n658.
  2. Vera San Juan, N., Aceituno, D., Djellouli, N., Sumray, K., Regenold, N., Syversen, A., Mulcahy Symmons, S., Dowrick, A., Mitchinson, L., Singleton, G., & Vindrola-Padros, C. (2021). Mental health and well-being of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK: Contrasting guidelines with experiences in practice. BJPsych Open, 7(1), e15.
  3. Woodhams, C., Dacre, J., Parnerkar, I., & Sharma, M. (2021). Pay gaps in medicine and the impact of COVID-19 on doctors’ careers. Lancet (London, England), 397(10269), 79–80.
  4. Nelson, B. (2020). The positive effects of covid-19. BMJ, 369, m1785. 
  5. Monaghesh, E., Hajizadeh, A. The role of telehealth during COVID-19 outbreak: a systematic review based on current evidence. BMC Public Health 20, 1193 (2020).
  6. Bradford, N., Caffery, L. and Smith, A., 2016. Telehealth services in rural and remote Australia: a systematic review of models of care and factors influencing success and sustainability.


Ave Põld

GHWN Youth Hub Steering Committee

Year of publication

16 November 2022