The Canadian Nurses Association designated this week, (May 11th to 17th), National Nursing Week, and in recognition, Temple reached out to our member-nurses. We are pleased to present these thoughts from Hélène Deutsch, RN., M.Sc.(A).
NURSES’ REALITY DURING THIS PANDEMIC
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.
At the age of 34, 166 years ago, Florence Nightingale stepped onto a battlefield in the Crimean War. She was surrounded by death and despair.
In that moment she decided not to give up.
Instead, she stepped up.
She tended to the sick around the clock.
She spoke up about the true conditions and encouraged her colleagues to make a difference.
During this Nurses’ Week 2020, very much like Florence Nightingale, nurses are stepping up, not giving up.
Nurses find themselves on the frontlines of this pandemic. COVID-19 is the invisible enemy, the deadliest in our lifetime in the Western world.
Very much like Florence Nightingale, nurses today face shortages of rudimentary equipment that is supposed to protect them so they can protect and help others. Despite the need for a greater presence at the bedside, administrative tasks remain burdensome, keeping nurses from spending more time comforting, informing families, crying with them via FaceTime, Skype, Messenger or telephone, more time holding patients’ hands as they die alone, without family at their side.
Nurses are showing that they are afraid and yet, they find the courage and strength to continue even when they have gone beyond their limits.
Many nurses are living in hotel rooms or in RVs parked in their driveways. Many return home from work and immediately go into isolation in a room where no other family member is permitted to enter. Nurses are putting their lives on the line, caring for people who carry a virus that could kill them and kill those they love. This fear of infecting their children, partners and parents is real. Yet nurses return the next day and the one after that to care for those infected with COVID-19.
Nurses are trained for the work they are doing right now; they just never thought a pandemic would occur in their lifetime.
True, not every nurse is caring for a ventilated patient in the ICU. Some are providing home care, work that carries high risks for nurses to be infected. Some are caring for post-op patients, women in labour, newborns in departments just a few floors away from departments where patients are dying from COVID-19. That work, too, carries its own threat.
Nurses are not heroes, and their duty to care is not absolute – they have a right to expect meaningful support from their employers, their governments, and the public, regardless of pandemic circumstances.
Nurses are advocating for vulnerable people such as our elderly who should not lose their rights to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of pandemic circumstances.
Nurses are advocating for conditions that will enable them to uphold culturally-safe care of minorities, regardless of pandemic circumstances.
Nurses are experiencing moral distress: feelings of anger, frustration, or guilt when they are unable to act on their ethical judgment. So, nurses are speaking up about families not being “visitors.” Institutional policies must strike a balance between physical distancing, and the rights of patients and families to be together.
Nurses need a moral community, a workplace in which individuals feel safe speaking up, and where there is alignment between publicly professed values and the lived reality. A safe climate is one where nurses can effectively exert their moral agency, their ability to direct their actions toward an ethical end, such as good outcomes for their patients.
Supporting nurses means more than calling them heroes, or guardian angels. Such moral characterizations nourish the public perception that nurses are self-sacrificing, willing to put themselves in danger and ultimately to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. This romantic portrayal of nurses by the media and politicians does not highlight professional nursing roles. Nurses are working and providing professional care in the same way as doctors are, but with different responsibilities. Recognizing the leadership and expertise of nurses, the uniqueness of their contribution to medicine, can only enhance the image of nurses in the general population and encourage registration of teenagers and young adults into nursing programs. Failure to promote the professional image of nurses will only exacerbate the current nursing shortages, the problem of compassion fatigue and ultimately of nurses prematurely leaving the profession.
Supporting nurses means more than thanking them with a box of chocolates, more than applauding them in the hallways of the hospital, more than honking car horns while driving by care institutions. Supporting nurses means heeding Public Health instructions regarding social distancing and self-isolation. Supporting nurses means teaching these measures to your children.
Supporting nurses means notifying head nurses AND institutions’ ombudspersons of the poor conditions and treatment provided not only to patients but to nurses as well. In doing so, you will provide a safer environment in which nurses can dispense care. Your direct actions can make a difference, and can attenuate the impact of events leading to the PTSD, anxiety and depression that will be, without a doubt, the toll left by this pandemic on nurses around the world.
Alarie, J. (2020). Opinion COVID-19 : Il est temps de prendre soin de nos soignants. La Presse+, May 13, 2020.
Mayeroff, M. (1971). On Caring. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY. 117p.
McGillis Hall, L., Angus, J., Peter, E., O’Brien-Pallas, L., Wynn, F. & Donner, G. (2003). Media portrayal of nurses’ perspectives and concerns in the SARS crisis in Toronto. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 35(3). 211-216.
Nightingale, F. (1969) Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not. Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, NY. 140p.
Wright, D.K., Petersen, W., & Gifford, W. (2020). Nurses’ Ethical Considerations During a Pandemic. Canadian Nurses’ Association.