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The role of nursing has evolved from its early days of taking orders from doctors and working primarily in hospitals to, today, having a leading role in directing patient care and working in an array of non-hospital settings. As we celebrate 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife and National Nurses Week from May 6-12, this is a good time to recognize the ever-evolving role of nursing and the vast opportunities to serve, particularly as we face unprecedented challenges brought by COVID-19.
In just a matter of weeks, health care has gone from status quo to redesigning care delivery in nontraditional ways. Telehealth is the new normal, yet only 55 percent of hospitals fully or partially implemented telehealth systems as recently as 2014. Nurses and care teams are quickly finding new ways of meeting patient needs; developing strategies never even conceptualized before this pandemic. They’re doing this with limited supplies and in some parts of the country, without adequate personal protective equipment; having to make hard decisions such as which patients will get access to lifesaving ventilators. All while feeling the pressure of this ultimate question: how do you provide care to patients and families for a disease that has no cure, while still caring for those who can no longer visit the doctor’s office?
This pandemic has demanded expedited creative thinking, flexibility and innovation from all of us in health care, nurses included.
At my organization, there are many ways nurses have shown adaptability and creativity through this crisis. One of these includes a companion program to provide a safe way for patients with COVID-19 to say their last goodbyes to family members. Within 48 hours, Virginia Mason nurses created a protocol for family members to visit their loved ones one last time. Amid so many heartbreaking stories of people passing away alone from COVID-19, nurses took control and made a solution to a devastating reality for so many families.
Nursing teams are also leading infection prevention work among team members, including monitoring employee health and keeping our hospital’s workforce safe. Early on, nurses helped design a drive-through testing station for one of our medical centers, including templates for screening protocols and overall work to build the necessary record-keeping and team communication for such a process.
None of these activities was part of their regular duties prior to COVID-19 and that’s the beauty of this profession— nurses have an incredible ability to adapt to challenging situations even when they are dealing with the unknown.
As we look to a future past this pandemic, there are impacts of which we don’t quite yet know the ramifications. Before COVID-19, nursing was already facing a staffing shortage, and now that reality becomes even more threatened. Other areas and the full impact on the profession remains to be seen.
However, in all the fear and unknown, this pandemic allows us to see the unique attributes of nursing more clearly, and all of the opportunities within — to lead in health care, care for patients and make a difference in our communities. The opportunities within nursing are limitless, and without nurses, we could not provide the necessary lifesaving, compassionate care that so many in our country need now and in the future.