The Experiences of Healthcare Workers Following the Fukushima Disaster

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Sudeepa ABEYSINGHE, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
The 2011 Fukushima Triple Disaster of earthquake, tsunami and radiation exposure presented an extraordinary public health emergency with persistent effects on the local community. This paper focuses upon the social and professional disruption experienced by medical professionals, allied health professionals, and support staff in the city of Minamisoma, the nearest sizeable city to the Fukushima power plant. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews, the research shows the way in which the exogenous shock of the disaster has resulted in fundamental short-term impacts in the structuring of healthcare work, but also in longer-term changes in professional roles both at the institutional level and as managed and experienced by individuals.

Individual impacts include disruptions in professional trajectory, both during the immediate crisis and longer-term (for example, through unexpectedly moving between institutions). For doctors, in particular, long-term impacts also include conscious shifts in professional focus, for example through a shift in speciality (e.g. interest in disaster medicine, or increasing focus on home care). At the institutional level, the destabilisation of the disaster has led to a reorganisation of work, for example in the rise of new work categories (e.g. around radiation testing) and in the restricting of work-roles to account for the loss of particular categories of staff.

Overall, the paper draws upon both medical sociology and the sociology of work to reflect upon the effect of the disaster on the health workers and institutions of Minamisoma, demonstrating the persistent and wide-ranging impact of the disaster on the practice of healthcare.