Of all the retrospectives cropping up right now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most important assessments is how this worldwide public health crisis has and will continue to impact the nursing profession.
Medical schools, professional organizations, and even companies like Johnson & Johnson are reaching out to try and answer the questions: what have been the effects of the pandemic on nurses and how we view their profession?
- The value of nurses can’t be underestimated. Nurses have long been at the core of every medical team, but in the past year, we’ve truly seen them lead the way.Professor Patricia Davidson of Johns Hopkins notes that the actual tasks nurses are performing in a pandemic aren’t dramatically different — it’s just that the visibility and aware of their work is higher.
“The pandemic is heightening the need for team-based care, infection control, person-centered care, and other skills that really speak to the strengths of nurses,” Davidson said.
And these strengths aren’t going unnoticed. A market research study developed by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, the American Nurses Association, and Johnson & Johnson found that, compared to 2016, “all audiences surveyed [viewed] nurses as more important in 2020.”
- Nursing is a profession poised for expanded leadership. This is something that those nurses most involved with caring for COVID-19 patients have already experienced.The nature of the pandemic and the severe influx of patients meant that they were given more space to step up and take the lead.As a result, the market research study found that “64% of nurses who spent more than half their time with COVID-19 patients [were] satisfied with opportunities to work on collaborative interprofessional teams.”Those same nurses also tended to be more satisfied with their opportunities for professional advancement or to lead programs or initiatives.
And it’s not just nurses themselves seeing the benefits of them taking a leadership role. All the groups surveyed, including healthcare administrators and the general population, “nurses should be more involved in healthcare system efficiency, leadership and interprofessional teams” and that they should play an expanded role in areas of patient care.
- Nurses are ready to be a part of new technology and developments. Telehealth broke out big in 2020 as a way to connect patients to their care teams without unnecessarily risking them to exposure to the virus, and it’s likely to continue to be an important aspect of healthcare even after the pandemic is over. Davidson points out, “Right now people are not getting health screenings…or not having support to manage chronic conditions including mental health issues. Nurses will play an important role in addressing those ongoing health challenges.”It would make sense, then, to ensure nurses are a critical voice in how these areas of tech and development are integrated into the healthcare system.In fact, 73% of nurses in the market research study said they wanted to be more involved with not just utilizing, but also developing and selecting the kinds of healthcare technologies used in facilities.
- Many organizations are ready to prove that “we honor healthcare heroes” aren’t just empty words. For everything they’ve done for well over a year during a historic pandemic, we’re realizing that while cheering them on is great, taking real actions to support them—their education, their needs, their growth and development—is even better. Salem University, for example, has set up a scholarship specifically for our nursing heroes, offering $2000 to those who enroll in our RN-BSN, Master of Science in Nursing, or MBA in Healthcare ManagementThis kind of next step needs to be replicated across the board, including when it comes to health and public policies.Ensuring nursing teams are well-staff, well-resourced, and nurses as individuals have access to the education and development they need will all go a long way toward avoiding nursing burnout and taking care of everyone in this critical profession.
While almost no one would likely volunteer to relive the year 2020, one thing we can potentially give it credit for is helping us hone our priorities. In the healthcare system, it likely made us that much more aware of what we should’ve recognized all along: that nurses are the heart of healthcare and deserve to be supported as such.
Innovation in Nursing education in the wake of the pandemic.
Like our nursing colleagues on the front line, nurse educators moved quickly to make extreme adaptations to the practice of educating our nursing students, who are now working on the pandemic front lines themselves. With creativity and a willingness to try new pedagogical practices that foster real-world learning, nurse educators shifted clinical practice to a virtual and online environment, while maintaining a clear focus on the specific knowledge and competencies to be achieved by our next generation of nurses.
Many nurse educators worldwide are also active clinicians working on the front lines themselves, while teaching outside of their comfort zone to ensure that our nursing students continue to learn through the awful progression of this virus. With little or no notice, nurse educators and nursing students have met challenges never before imagined. Supported and encouraged by nurse educators, nursing students stepped up to the challenging learning environment, and were able to make those drastic changes work. Despite the pandemic, nursing students continued to learn and develop their clinical judgment and decision-making skills.
As Dr. Stephanie Holaday, Dean of Health Sciences at Salem University stated, “The perseverance, resilience and commitment to the nursing profession, by both nurse educators and nursing students, has truly been inspirational that brings hope to many people while we continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic.”