International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, v. 14, n. 3, pp. 383-401. Abstract: Purpose: Health-care professionals are caring for patients in unprecedented circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, dealing with scarce resources, higher demand and uncertain outcomes. In this context, the purpose of this study is to explore the views of health-care professionals regarding their work conditions and perceived impacts of the pandemic on their health, as well as the role of resilience and improvisation in face of the new challenges. Design/methodology/approach: This exploratory and qualitative study carried out semi-structured interviews with eleven health-care professionals from three Brazilian states that have been working in intensive care settings during the pandemic. Findings: The pandemic has posed a great personal and professional burden on the professionals, impacting their physical and mental health. It also has required them greater resilience and improvisation capabilities to adequately perform work-related activities. Practical implications: In addition to individual-level attitudes, the results suggest that aspects in the government, society, personal relationships and providers domains influence the effects of the pandemic on the health-care professionals and how they cope with the ongoing crisis. Such a multifactorial approach should therefore be considered by health managers. Originality/value: With no similar effort identified, this study emphasizes the relevance of discussing the pandemic burden on frontline professionals and intends to be useful for health practitioners, managers, academics and policymakers.