Insights from the Front lines: Qualitative Public Health Nursing Research with Vulnerable Populations During COVID-19

By Dr. Kashica J. Webber-Ritchey

Over my eight years as a health promotion researcher, reducing health disparities in vulnerable populations has been my primary focus. The prevention of health disparities requires addressing social determinants of health (SDOH), including conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect health risks and outcomes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). While the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted the health of all populations, it has disproportionately impacted communities of color due to SDOH. In our article, COVID-19: Qualitative Research with Vulnerable Populations, we describe the need to address health disparities and SDOH highlighting how the voices of vulnerable populations must be heard to better address their health needs (Webber-Ritchey et al., 2021a). 

Nurses are highly valuable on the frontlines of this pandemic, as they have been with previous public health emergencies in the US and abroad. However, they remain vulnerable. As a seasoned public health nursing researcher, having worked to interview 100 nurses across the country during the initial COVID-19 pandemic response, there are many practical strategies that public health nurses and researchers can use to improve engagement and recruitment for research in vulnerable populations (Webber-Ritchey et al., 2021a). Practical strategies for engagement with vulnerable populations that include: 1) relying on the participants’ knowledge and 2) upholding the participants as the key to obtaining the meaning of their lived experiences (Webber-Ritchey et al., 2021a). Given that COVID-19 had taken a toll on nurses including those from diverse populations, we paid close attention to diversity in recruitment, further described in our article, Recruitment Strategies to Optimize Participation by Diverse Populations in Nursing Science Quarterly. We found that utilizing a collaborative approach and multimodal strategies was successful in recruiting a diverse sample of nurses yielding a sample of over 60% of nurses from Black, Latine, Asian, Multiracial, or gender minority backgrounds  (Webber-Ritchey et al., 2021b). We recommend future public health nursing research be intentional in both its design and research team composition (Webber-Ritchey et al., 2021). 

Black nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing two fronts. While the unprecedented challenges that nurses are facing are documented, little is known about the experiences of Black nurses practicing during COVID-19. A forthcoming paper, being presented at ABNF 2022, analyzes interviews with Black nurses to provide insights on their experiences while practicing during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In reducing health disparities, it is crucial that the voices that often go unheard are heard and represented. The efforts of qualitative public health nursing researchers can make this possible.


Centers for Disease Control and Presentation. (2020, December 20). Introduction to COVID19 racial and ethnic health disparities. Retrieved from

Webber-Ritchey, K.J., Simonovich, S. D., Spurlark, R. (2021a). COVID-19: Conducting research with vulnerable populations. Nursing Science Quarterly, 34(1), 13-19.

Webber-Ritchey, K.J., Aquino, E., Ponder, T., Lattner, C., Soco, C., Spurlark, R., & Simonovich, S.D. (2021b). Recruitment strategies to optimize participation by diverse populations. Nursing Science Quarterly, 34(1),235-243. doi: 10.1177/08943184211010471.


Kashica J. Webber-Ritchey, Ph.D., MHA, RN is Assistant Professor at DePaul University School of Nursing in Chicago, Illinois. In 2021, she joined the Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association and is also a member of the Physical Activity Section’s Research Committee. She can be reached at

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