There hasn’t been a National Nurses Day like this one. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that shows signs of simultaneously slowing down and speeding up according to location, nurses around the world are relying on their skills, their teams, and their resilience like they have never had to do before.
Minority Nurse turned to Summer Bryant, DNP, RN, CMSRN, president-elect of the Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses (AMSN) and managing consultant of BRG|Prism Healthcare to talk about why National Nurses Day 2020 is so weighty this year. Nurses have been called on to work in ways they haven’t done before, with a disease they have little information about, and all the time they are worried about their health and the health of their loved ones.
Bryant says she’s not surprised by how nurses have responded, and she’s hopeful that positive change will follow when the crisis has passed. On National Nurses Day 2020, there’s a lot to be proud of.
Q: The current COVID-19 crisis has shown a clear spotlight on the critical role nurses play in our nation. It has also revealed some serious cracks in the system as well—especially in the protections nurses deserve and aren’t getting. In what way do you think nurses have revealed just how they are the backbone of healthcare?
A: I think this opportunity has certainly allowed nurses to demonstrate their courage and empathy for their patients and the communities they serve. We’ve seen nurses step up to this challenge without batting an eye—they are working tirelessly (sometimes without the correct protective equipment), and they keep going back to work day after day, night after night. They are also caring for each other, which much like a backbone, the support is necessary and vital to continue moving freely and giving of oneself to others.
It has also amazed me how many nurses have gone to New York and other hard-hit areas to work and help their fellow nurses in order to give them a break and support the need for extra hands. I think we’ve seen the ultimate sacrifice of the nurses who are living away from their families in order to protect them from getting the virus. Ultimately, nurses keep going to work to care for these patients that need them desperately, and without the nurses to coordinate the care from all of the different providers, patients may not be getting the best possible care that they could get during this pandemic.
Q: Going forward, how might this crisis inspire change and what kind of change would you like to see for nurses?
A: I’m positive this crisis will inspire change. I hope the change sheds light on what it is that nurses actually do when caring for patients and how integral nursing skills are to positive patient outcomes. Nurses are highly skilled in science and the technical skills needed to stop disease processes and improve patient functioning. In addition, I think this crisis has allowed the public to see the caring side of nursing—how hard they work to connect patients with their family members while in isolation, and how willing they are to stay with a patient for hours after their shift is over so they do not die alone.
Nurses have been the most trusted profession for many years now. I think now that people can see their work in action across the country—this will only solidify that trust even more.
Q: This is also changing how nurses see their work reflected in the country. Across the nation, people are seeing firsthand what nurses have known all along about how important nursing care is for helping patients. What kinds of ways are nurses maybe seeing their roles differently?
A: I think nurses are modeling the way where courage and sacrifice are concerned. They are doing this by being reassigned from their normal work environment in an outpatient clinic, the operating room, or in the quality department, and going to work in another area. They may be screening patients and visitors who enter through the hospital lobby, or they may be testing people for COVID-19 in parking lots. Many nurses are working in ICUs or medical-surgical settings to care for COVID-19 patients and using the team nursing approach which is foreign to many nurses.
They are proving to themselves how adaptable they can be and how they have value practicing in any setting where they care for patients. It is difficult to learn a job in a new area with different coworkers for anyone, but to do it during a pandemic shows grit and the flexibility to meet patients where they are. In fact, AMSN has tools to help nurses working in different capacities during this crisis—a self-assessment which can help nurses evaluate their skills and communicate with employers where they may best be reassigned.
Q: And many people, in seeing what nurses are doing, are concerned for these nurses’ health and well being. What would you like to tell nurses across the country on National Nurses Day who are exhausted and even traumatized by the events of the past six weeks?
A: I am one of those people who is concerned about nurses’ health and well being after watching the pandemic unfold in the last many weeks. I would like nurses to know that their sacrifice and courage is not going unnoticed. I am also not surprised at all at how they have stepped up to meet this challenge. I encourage them to seek out resources to protect their mental and spiritual health. I know many hospitals have increased these resources for the staff, and I hope they are finding time to take advantage.
I think it is extremely important that nurses find ways to care for themselves first and give themselves permission to work through the emotions they are facing every day. AMSN has many resources for self care as well as discounts for goods and services to assist nurses in caring for themselves on our website. In addition, AMSN is trying to support nurses in whatever ways we can including providing resources for staffing models, podcasts, advocacy for personal protective equipment and other necessities, and an online community in which to connect with other nurses experiencing the same issues.