Massachusetts State Governor Charlie Baker has signed legislation recognizing the services of the U.S. Cadet Nurses, student nurses who provided care in civilian hospitals while registered nurses were serving overseas during WWII. A plaque commemorating the Cadet Nurses will be placed in Nurses Hall in the Massachusetts State House (named after the statue of an Army war nurse erected in honor of the women of the North after the Civil War).
Created by an act of Congress in 1943, the US Cadet Nurse Corps was formed to address the nurse shortage that had become acute with the onset of WWII. Cutting the training period for nurses from 36 to 30 months, nursing students in the program became senior Cadets during the six months preceding their graduation and served in hospitals with the same duties as graduate nurses. According to the American Hospital Association, cadet student nurses helped to prevent the collapse of civilian nursing care during World War II.
Former public health nurse and erstwhile Cadet Betty Beecher—who recently celebrated her 96th birthday in lockdown—is delighted and proud of the long-awaited notice: “My first thought – just think, years from now, my grandchildren’s children can point to the plaque and say, ‘My great-grandmother was a Cadet Nurse!” As a student at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Boston, Beecher served in the Corps at public health service marine hospitals on Staten Island and in Boston, caring for wounded Coast Guard and Merchant Marine servicemen with head injuries and loss of limbs.
In a speech marking the legislation, Beecher said, “The students met the most vital needs and prevented the total collapse of the health care system. Without us, it would have resulted in a sick and demoralized nation. And by assuming greater responsibility than ever thought possible, we elevated the status of women and of the nursing education.”
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Following the May 25 death of George Floyd, nurses and other healthcare providers have been taking action not only to protest the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police, but also to draw attention to the severe knock-on effects of racism on the health of Black communities, including an inordinate rate of mortalities from heart disease, diabetes, COVID-19, and other illnesses. Braving the risks of coronavirus, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, nurses, who often see the fruits of social inequality at firsthand, have provided protestors with first aid as well as taking part themselves.
Nursing organizations have joined individual nurses in speaking out. American Nurses Association President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN issued a moving statement, in which he remarked, “As a black man and registered nurse, I am appalled by senseless acts of violence, injustice, and systemic racism and discrimination. Even I have not been exempt from negative experiences with racism and discrimination. The Code of Ethics obligates nurses to be allies and to advocate and speak up against racism, discrimination and injustice. This is non-negotiable…. At this critical time in our nation, nurses have a responsibility to use our voices to call for change. To remain silent is to be complicit.”
“You clapped for us. We kneel for you.”
A mingling of professional training and empathy moved nurses such as Miami RN Rochelle Bradley to take a knee in remembrance of Floyd’s death. Bradley told CNN that “Kneeling here today for nine minutes and knowing that that’s how long George Floyd was on the ground with his airway compromised really bothered me as a nurse.”
For healthcare workers, the protests also reinforced their sense of unity in the era of COVID-19. In Boston, nurses who gathered to kneel in front of Brigham and Women’s Hospital carried a sign reading, “You clapped for us. We kneel for you.” One nurse interviewed, Roberta Biens, said, “I just want everybody to know they’re not alone, we’re with them and we’ll stand in front of them or behind them, wherever we need to be to support them.”
Minneapolis nurses appeared in force at the protests. One local ER nurse told the Insider, “COVID is a temporary and critical health crisis. Racism, through violence and disease, has been killing our patients since the hospital was built and will continue killing them long after COVID is gone.” And in an official statement, the Minnesota Nurses Association said, “Nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them.”
Hospitals in New York City united to stand behind the protests. The Gothamist scanned official Twitter posts and noted, “The six major hospital systems in the city–NYU Langone Health, Mount Sinai Health System, New York-Presbyterian, NYC Health + Hospitals, Northwell Health, and Montefiore Health System–have all posted publicly in support of the demonstrations…”
Weighing the Call to Civic Action Against Public Health Concerns
Medical practitioners are understandably divided about engaging in public assemblies while the coronavirus is still at large, but many believe the risk is worth taking. On June 8, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “WHO fully supports equality and the global movement against racism,” but added, “As much as possible, keep at least 1 meter from others, clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest.”
Asked by Health.com about the danger of public protests, Natalie DiCenzo, an Ob-Gyn resident in New Jersey, responded that “the risk of remaining silent and complacent in the face of racism and police violence is also deadly. I believe that with the proper precautions, these protests can be done relatively safely when it comes to COVID-19.”
Nearly 2,000 US “public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders” also expressed direct support for the national protests in a widely circulated June 4 letter (initiated by faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine). Following a statement that “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter recommended a series of safety measures to protect protestors from the virus. Among other issues it urged “that protesters not be arrested or held in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission, “ and that no use be made of “tear gas, smoke, or other respiratory irritants, which could increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection…”
On Twitter, nurses participating in the protests offered their own practical suggestions. A DC pediatric nurse told attendees to bring gloves, sunglasses or goggles for eye protection, and “an extra mask. Yours will get hot and sweaty so switching it out halfway through is smart. If you have a cloth mask throw a bandana on top too…” Following participation in protests, some nurses have also taken the step of self-quarantining for two weeks.
Nursing students, nursing schools, school nurses grounded after school closures, and retired nurses are all joining the fight against the rising pandemic.
Here are just a few
examples to be found across the United States:
Belhaven’s School of Nursing are performing community outreach and
educating the public on how to protect themselves and others from the
virus. Students are teaching infection-control techniques, discussed
sanitation practices with the college’s operations team, and have
posted instructions in campus dorms on maintaining safe hygiene.
Senior Rebecca Rylander tells Jackson’s WJTV,
“There is a desperate need for healthcare workers amidst this
pandemic, and I want to help fill that need.”
Long Island, New
At nursing and
medical programs in Long Island, students barred from immediate
contact with patients are playing an active role behind the scenes
and on the front lines. While medical students at the Renaissance
School of Medicine in Stonybrook are conducting online research and
serving patients via telehealth sessions, the Barbara H. Hagan School
of Nursing and Health Sciences tells Newsday
that they have “alumni, graduate students and faculty working in
emergency rooms and testing sites, and undergraduates are working or
volunteering as nursing assistants.”
School nurses have
volunteered at Darien High School’s COVID-19 testing station. Lisa
Grant, a school district nurse at Hindley School, said “We had been
asking our director what we can do to help so when Darien signed up
for a site, we volunteered.” Yvonne Dempsey, of Ox Ridge School was
also ready to help out. Dempsey told the Darien
Times, “As nurses, we put ourselves out there any way we can. I
figured that’s something I can do in my free time with the schools
closed.” She adds, “Testing is the key — testing and isolation
as much as possible is the only way to stop the spread.”
Massachusetts, Caldwell, New Jersey, and elsewhere
In response to calls
from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing faculty
at colleges, universities, and community colleges are rushing to
donate supplies of everything from masks to isolation gowns, to hand
sanitizer. “This is a time when we all need to come together as a
community and work cooperatively to fight this pandemic for the
health and safety of everyone,” MassBay Community College President
David Podell told the Framingham
Source. Jennifer Rhodes, DNP, a faculty member at Caldwell
University’s School of Nursing and Public Health, remarked,
“As a former emergency room nurse, I cannot imagine what they are
experiencing on the front lines right now.”
Retired nurses are
also answering individual states’ call for help. Nebraska
TV spoke to 61-year-old Mary Steiner, a former emergency response
nurse, has volunteered for the Central Nebraska Reserve Core. As she
waits to put to use her training in natural disaster and emergency
preparedness, Mary remarks, “If it’s something that becomes as
serious as what’s going on in New York City right now… They’re
wanting all hands on deck and so regardless of what my workplace
setting has been in the past I know they’re going to be able to use
years after their dispute began, Brigham
and Women’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) have
reached an agreement and approved a new two-year
contract deal. The union representing Brigham and Women’s hospital supports
over 3,400 nurses who accused the hospital of putting profits ahead of patient
2016, nurses from Brigham threatened a historic
one-day strike. Both sides ultimately reached a contract deal to avoid the
strike the day before it was set to begin what would have been the largest
walkout of nurses in state history. Prior to the strike being called off,
Brigham had planned to lock out the striking nurses for four additional days by
hiring temporary replacements and transferring hundreds of patients to other
nurses union has continued to clash with other hospital executives since then,
carrying out a strike at Tufts Medical Center in 2017 and pushing a
controversial ballot question to regulate nurse staffing levels in hospitals in
2018, which was rejected by voters.
new agreement shows a drastic change in attitude from all sides. Contract negotiations
between Brigham and the nurses association had reached a bitter point prior to
the cancelled strike in 2016. But this time around, the talks were very
different and all sides can take part in celebrating a new agreement between the
and Women’s Hospital released the following statement
following the new contract deal: “The process of negotiations was collaborative
and respectful as the hospital and the MNA worked to achieve our mutual goal:
ensuring that nurses have a safe, supportive environment in which to provide
the best care for patients.”
new contract will take place retroactively to last October and expire in September
2020. The deal includes a 12 percent raise over two years for nurses in their
first 19 years on the job and a 4.5 percent increase for nurses at the top of
the wage scale. The contract also maintains pensions and other existing
To learn more about the new two-year
contract deal between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses
Association three years after avoiding a historic strike, visit here.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) is trying a
second time to establish patient limits in state legislation. This comes six
months after losing a ballot question in the November 2018 state election.
As reported by the Boston Business Journal, the current legislation being reviewed now would hire an independent researcher to study issues affecting nurses, such as staffing, violence, injuries, and quality of life. The data collected by the researcher will then be used by state legislators to determine healthcare staffing needs and acute care patient limits.
“If these studies determine there is a best practice limit on the number of patients a nurse should care for at one time, that should inform future policy discussions,” MNA spokesman Joe Markman told the Boston Business Journal.
The original measure from this past election was defeated
largely because of lobbying from the Massachusetts Health & Hospital
Association (MHA), who spent $25 million to defeat the ballot. This current
bill would be revisiting the same legislation, which raises points for state
consideration regarding nurse staffing measures.
“The recent ballot measure raised important issues and challenges that our nurses still face today regarding their ability to give patients the quality care they need and deserve,” Massachusetts state Senator Diana DiZoglio, a sponsor of the current legislation, shared with the Boston Business Journal in an email. “While the policy prescription on the ballot was rejected by the majority of voters, we still need to remain vigilant in identifying best practices to ensure the very best patient care is afforded to all.”
MNA has been working to get nurse-to-patient ratios at all Massachusetts
hospitals for several years, including a ballot measure in 2014 that was removed,
after Governor Deval Patrick passed a law patient limit law. Markman said this
study is necessary to convince voters, after the 2018 election.
“The hospital industry spent … million(s) misleading people about those facts and sometimes outright lying,” Markman told the Boston Business Journal. “For example, they continuously said ED wait times would increase with safe patient limits. That is just wrong and not supported by the evidence. Based on how the industry ran its campaign, it’s clear the public will benefit from additional independent studies.”
From 2014 to 2017, physician burnout increased by 5% at the Massachusetts General Hospital Physicians Organization in Boston, according to a recent analysis.
Other research indicates that nearly half of physicians nationwide are experiencing burnout symptoms, and a study published in October found burnout increases the odds of physician involvement in patient safety incidents, unprofessionalism, and lower patient satisfaction. Burnout has also been linked to negative financial effects at physician practices and other healthcare organizations.
The research published in JAMA found exhaustion and cynicism were the primary drivers of increased burnout at Mass General. The research was based on survey data collected from more than 1,700 physicians.
The survey data showed exhaustion increased from 52.9% in 2014 to 57.7% in 2017, and cynicism increased from 44.8% in 2014 to 51.1% in 2017.
The exhaustion finding was particularly troubling, the JAMA researchers wrote. “We found physicians were more vulnerable to emotional exhaustion than any of the other subscales of burnout. Physicians reporting high levels of exhaustion were more likely to reduce their clinical schedules, reduce the number of patients in their practice, leave the practice, or retire.”
The researchers noted that physician turnover has several costs including patient and clinician distress as well as the expense of replacing physicians, which can be as high as three times a doctor’s annual salary.
Primary care physicians reported higher levels of exhaustion compared to medical specialists. “These findings may be associated with the amount of time primary care physicians spend documenting on the EHR and serving as the clinicians responsible for the management of patients’ multiple complex medical and social problems,” the researchers wrote.
Burnout data points
The JAMA article has several other key data points:
- Early-career physicians who had less than a decade of practice experience since their training were more susceptible to burnout than veteran physicians.
- The higher burnout rate in 2017 may be linked to implementation of a new electronic health record system because average time devoted to administrative tasks increased from 23.7% in 2014 to 27.9% in 2017, and increased time spent on administrative tasks was linked to higher burnout.
- Several favorable working conditions were associated with lower odds of burnout: workflow satisfaction, positive relationships with colleagues, time and resources for continuing medical education, opportunities to impact decision making, and having a trusted adviser.
Addressing physician burnout
The lead author of the research, Marcela del Carmen, MD, MPH, explained that the physician group has implemented several efforts to reduce burnout.
“We have allocated funding to each of our 16 clinical departments to develop and institute initiatives to mitigate burnout in their departments. We have central efforts including sponsoring social events to enhance connectivity amongst the faculty, efforts to improve our use of the electronic health record through personal- and practice-level training, and funding to support peer-to-peer coaching programs, yoga, and meditation sessions.”
Del Carmen’s research team also suggested that burnout prevention efforts could be tailored for early-career physicians, who reported relatively high dissatisfaction with department leadership, relationships with colleagues, quality of care delivery, control over work environment, and career fit.
“These findings point to potential opportunities in this vulnerable group to mitigate burnout, such as initiatives that promote community building and networking and harnessing effective leadership,” the researchers wrote.
This story was originally posted on MedPage Today.