The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife to showcase the vital role that nurses play in providing health services. These are the people who devote their lives to caring for mothers and children; giving lifesaving immunizations and health advice; looking after older people and generally meeting everyday essential health needs. They are often, the first and only point of care in their communities.
As we say farewell to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the important role nurses play in health care — that nurses are powerful not because they have no fear but because they approach their work and care for patients despite their fear with the utmost care and compassion.
The pandemic has been devastating, but it has also been “A Moment for Nurses.” The world has witnessed nurses’ compassion as they comforted the sick and dying, connected patients with family members via technology if possible, or stepped in to act as family if none could be present. They have also witnessed the complex care provided by nurses in critical care and other settings. The media have also interviewed nurses more often than any time before in our 200-year history. A recent Washington Post headline read, “What seven ICU nurses want you to know about the battle against COVID-19.” One of many stories describing the pain inflicted by COVID-19 from nurses’ perspective while other stories rightly depicted nurses as heroes.
But the devaluing of nurses as leaders still persists. Stephanie Ruhl, an anchor on MSNBC asked Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey why he had a nurse as the New Jersey Commissioner of Health and shouldn’t he “raise the stakes and have a MD.” Judith M. Persichilli, New Jersey Health Commissioner, is well qualified for the role, which includes a distinguished career as a Chief Nursing Officer. The Chief Nursing Officer is also the Vice President of Patient Care Services and manages most of the hospital, including non-nursing areas and supply chain issues in many instances. She has extensive administrative experience and knowledge to lead these efforts. So why the doubt on the part of news anchor and others? As a female-dominated profession, nurses have suffered from gender bias and a lack of understanding of the knowledge, skills and courage required for the role.
So what will 2021 bring? 2021 will bring the COVID-19 vaccine. We happily anticipate its arrival and a return to a new normal. We are not clear what will change and what will stay the same. However, we are reminded that for some individuals, their life is dramatically altered forever. A spouse, child, parent is missing at the table. Of those who survived COVID-19, many appear to experience long-term health effects, including fatigue, cough, and shortness of breath, muscle pain, confusion, headaches and even hallucinations. While the prevalence and severity of these lingering effects likely depend on the patient’s age and previous health conditions, it’s clear that many people’s health status is not the same and that they will require post-COVID health care and attention.
Nurses will also be forever changed. The memories of this year will not easily be erased – patients struggling to breathe with tears streaming down their faces with a haunted look in their eyes as a daily occurrence. We worry that these constant traumatic events will result in nurses experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders. Health disparities were also magnified in the pandemic. A racial injustice pandemic followed the COVID pandemic, creating more pain and outrage.
2020 has been one of the most challenging years in our lifetime. We each have our own story to tell. I hope we have learned that we have an obligation to each other — to help each other, to support each other, to respect each other, and to love each other.
God Speed to you, my fellow nurses as we enter 2021! You have served us well. We must continue to advocate vigorously for our patients and our profession. Our work is not done.
My best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe 2021 to you and your family!
Get to Know the Author
Dean Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, is an innovator in nursing and health professions, both nationally and internationally. Under her leadership, enrollment and NCLEX-RN scores increased, and research and scholarship has significantly expanded. The School is recognized as a national leader in nursing education, emphasizing social justice, digital technologies, and graduates with strong ethical reasoning skills.