Original Research

Working in the time of COVID-19: Rehabilitation clinicians’ reflections of working in Gauteng’s public healthcare during the pandemic

Hester M. van Biljon, Lana van Niekerk
African Journal of Disability | Vol 11 | a889 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v11i0.889 | © 2022 Hester M. van Biljon, Lana van Niekerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 April 2021 | Published: 28 April 2022

About the author(s)

Hester M. van Biljon, Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Lana van Niekerk, Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic manifested in South Africa, rehabilitation services were seriously affected. The consequences of these were wide-ranging: affecting service users, their families and caregivers, rehabilitation practices and practitioners as well as the integrity and sustainability of rehabilitation systems.

Objectives: This study aimed to explore the nature and consequences of disruption caused by the pandemic, based on the experience of rehabilitation clinicians who were working in public healthcare facilities in Gauteng.

Methods: This was a phenomenology study that used critical reflection method. Trained and experienced in reflecting on barriers and enablers that affect their practices, a multidisciplinary group of rehabilitation clinicians captured their experience of working during the time of COVID-19. Data construction extended over 6 months during 2020. An inductive thematic analysis was performed using Taguette: an open-source qualitative data analysis tool.

Results: The main themes captured the disorder and confusion with its resultant impact on rehabilitation services and those offering these services that came about at the beginning of the pandemic. The importance of teamwork and leadership in rehabilitation also emerged as themes. Other themes related to having to approach work differently, working beyond professional scopes of practice and pandemic fatigue.

Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way rehabilitation was being performed, creating an opportunity to reconceptualise, strengthen and improve rehabilitation services offered at public healthcare. The presence of effective leadership with clear communication, dependable multidisciplinary teams and clinicians with robust personal resources were strategies that supported rehabilitation clinicians whilst working during COVID-19.


rehabilitation therapists; persons with disability; pandemic; public healthcare users; COVID-19; disorder and confusion; reflective practice; inter-professional communication; disaster; leadership; personal protective equipment; multidisciplinary rehabili


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Crossref Citations

1. Rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients in hospital settings during the pandemic: a phenomenological study of Finnish physiotherapists’ perspective
Sonja Johanna Tykkyläinen, Taru Tuulia Tervo, Annika Wiklund-Engblom, Karin Wadell
European Journal of Physiotherapy  first page: 1  year: 2024  
doi: 10.1080/21679169.2024.2367709