Photo: Denver artist, Austin Zucchini-Fowler, painted the above mural to show the community’s appreciation for healthcare workers
As we roll into the New Year among a worldwide pandemic, I find that the healthcare providers I work with and know are stretched thin. Even with the influx of travel nurses, staffing remains a challenge in many places and the immediate future doesn’t seem to hold any miracle solutions.
Travel Nursing and COVID-19
Travel nurses are for sure the winners in this pandemic, at least by a means of financial measures. I am currently working PRN, but every day I think about taking a contract. The opportunities seem too good to pass up, even if it means working 48-60 hours a week for 4 weeks. People around the country are ill and hospitals need help. As nurses, we are at unique advantage to provide services during this time.
What Happens to Nurses After the Pandemic is Over?
I find many nurses asking- what happens when the pandemic is ‘over’, or at least better controlled? Are we going to go back to short staffed bedsides and continue the stress we have been feeling for years? Is someone finally going to place a call to action for leadership to provide better working environments with more support? Are there even enough nurses to match the needs of nationwide staffing challenges?
My biggest concern is nurse burnout, or moral injury during this time. We are all pushing ourselves beyond reasonable limits to meet the demands that are being placed upon our profession. Hospitals are offering incentives for staff nurses to work more hours, and travel nurses are working insane schedules to fulfill the requirements of their contracts. I am seeing more nurses say no thank you to the extra money and opt for their sanity. Pushing nurses to the brink isn’t the answer, but ensuring they want to stay in the profession post-pandemic is even more important. There needs to be incentives to retain and attract staff to stay in permanent positions.
How are Nurses Feeling at the Bedside during COVID-19?
As a reminder, I work as an ICU nurse. For me, of course it’s difficult to watch patients suffer from coronavirus. But, it’s even harder to deal with the constant short staffing and feeling like there is not enough time in each hour to care for my patients properly.
As nurses, we show up each day and do our jobs to the best of our abilities. It’s hard to continue to do the same job day after and day while hoping the patients will eventually get better. We came into this field to help patients get better, and it’s difficult to see patients stay with us for weeks and never improve.
During one of my recent shifts I had the treat of working in the ‘non-COVID’ pod. I was delighted. I had a post-op CABG patient and I managed to control his pain and enabled him to take deep breaths- this is the MOST accomplished I have felt as a nurse in months. It occurred to me that taking care of these very sick COVID patients was wearing on my soul. It felt amazing to have patients that were making progress and were actually going to leave the ICU. It gave me hope that when this is over, I may still be able to love my job and feel like I am making a positive impact.
Bright Spots for 2021 and Nurses
One of the biggest steps in ending this pandemic and reducing healthcare exposure is the arrival of the vaccination. Hopefully, during the next months providers can feel a little more at ease while at work, despite constant contact with coronavirus patients. Knowing we have immunity to the disease can take a little bit of weight off our shoulders
My biggest hope is that the country continues to realize the value of the nursing profession and actively takes steps to protect our nurses. We deserve more than we’ve gotten in the past and present, but we have an obligation to change the future. Nurses are at the core of medicine. Working on the frontlines may mean in a hospital, nursing home, or visiting patients at home, but without all of the nation’s nurses, we would have never come close to surviving this pandemic. Thank you to all of my co-Nurses out there, and to all of the healthcare workers that are contributing to the healing and restoration of health for this country.