In the last two months, the world has begun to recognize and acknowledge what anyone in the health care field has always known: that nurses are society’s real superheroes. And yet for all the praise and adulation being heaped on our health care providers, for thousands of nurses, it all feels like lip service.

The fact that nurses are risking their lives every day in the fight against coronavirus isn’t news. But what few people know is that nurses aren’t just being asked to sacrifice their physical and mental health in the face of the pandemic. They’re also being asked or required to sacrifice financially as well.

This article discusses the profound economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses, especially nurses of color. It also provides strategies for minority nurses to protect themselves financially as well as physically during the pandemic and beyond.

Becoming “Expendable”

Nurses worldwide and particularly in the US are being asked to risk their lives and health to care for infected patients without even the most basic of protective equipment. At the same time, they’re facing job cuts on a level second only to those of the restaurant industry.

And even as nurses not called to the frontlines are facing furloughs and job losses, minority nurses find themselves contending with skyrocketing rates of infection in their own communities. This means minority nurses who may have been exposed on the job or at home now face the prospect of illness and the massive expenses of treatment on a reduced income and possibly without health insurance.

A Heightened Risk

It’s not only the loss of income and insurance that nurses are facing today. The coronavirus pandemic has also fundamentally changed the way health care is delivered, and that has increased both the physical and the financial risks that nurses must face.

For example, as the virus began to spread and lockdowns became more prolific across the country, health care providers turned increasingly to telehealth to care for their patients. This was a great benefit in ensuring continuity of care while protecting against the spread of the virus. Telehealth, however, is an entirely new beast for many nurses, and that’s exposing them to greater liability than they might ever have faced in the clinic. As effective as telehealth technologies may be, they can’t duplicate the conditions of a face-to-face patient exam. There are things that can be missed when you can’t touch the patient, see how she walks into the room, or listen to her breathing.

The question isn’t whether mistakes will be made or symptoms unrecognized. The question is how many of those mistakes will be judged to be malpractice and who will be held financially as well as legally responsible. This is a particular concern for nurses caring for patients with substance abuse disorder. The national lockdown has pretty much necessitated that patients in recovery transition to telehealth.

And yet substance abuse disorder is notoriously susceptible to relapse and the signs of relapse often incredibly difficult to detect, especially through remote care. Should a patient overdose while under the auspices of telehealth care, it is not unimaginable that a treating nurse could be held financially responsible

Planning Ahead

No matter how deep a toll the pandemic has taken on your physical, emotional, and financial well-being, there is a tomorrow to come. If you have been furloughed because of the pandemic or if you simply cannot tolerate the conditions you have been asked to endure, you might find that a career change is your best option.

That doesn’t mean that you have to leave the field of nursing entirely. If it’s still your heart, then you might take the hard lessons learned during the outbreak and use them for good. You might find your purpose in a new career spent solving the problems that threatened to break you.

For instance, you might decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Health Policy and spend the rest of your working life developing programs to protect those on the frontlines and the patients they care for. You could build a career ensuring that tragedies like those nurses are encountering every day of the pandemic never happen again.

You might decide, however, that you need an entirely new start and venture into an entirely new industry. You might reinvent yourself. If that’s the case, then you need to be strategic and start thinking like a recruiter. Now, more than ever, hiring managers are using behavioral interviewing to find the ideal candidate. Understanding what that is and how it works can give you a decided advantage, especially when breaking into a new industry. At its core, behavioral interviewing gives you the opportunity to demonstrate exactly why you are the ideal person for the job. You simply have to “read” what the interviewer is looking for in the questions she asks.

The Takeaway

Nurses are finally being recognized as the superheroes they are, but they are far from getting the treatment they deserve. Instead, they are facing massive job losses, potentially lethal working conditions, and significant financial liabilities. Because of this, some nurses are choosing to leave the field altogether, while others are looking to transform it from within.

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