Nurses Need a Seat at the Table: COVID-19 Taskforce and Beyond


Nurses are signing an online petition for a nurse to be a member of the COVID-19 task force.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic rages on, president-elect Joe Biden created a COVID-19 task force to implement once he takes office this January. The team is made up of top scientists, researchers, and medical professionals, though many people believe that it is missing a key component: a nurse.

Theresa Brown, RN, PhD, is hoping to change that. The former oncology nurse, cancer survivor, and New York Times bestselling author created an online petition urging Biden to include a nurse on the COVID-19 task force.

“When the Biden transition team announced the COVID Task Force, and I saw there wasn't a nurse on it, I really was kind of disbelieving, and was on Twitter about that, and then saw that other nurses felt the same way,” Brown said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News.

Oncology Nursing News: Can you talk a little bit about your petition and why it is important?

Brown: My hope is not just to get a nurse on the COVID Task Force, although I would love to do that, but also to make it clear that we need nurses included in federal initiatives about health care. So, if people are talking about health care reform, in terms of changing the Affordable Care Act, we need nurses to be part of that if people are talking about how to make health care run better, we need nurses to be part of that. If people are talking about how personal protective equipment is going to be used by everyone the same way in hospitals or in skilled nursing facilities or out in the community, we need nurses to be part of that.

For so long, people have looked at health care as [only] doctors and TV shows like Grey's Anatomy just completely reinforce that very mistaken idea that doctors do everything in health care, and occasionally nurses empty a bedpan or say that there's a phone call. But the reality is that nurses are the ones 24/7 in the hospital, going into people's homes, doing the public health work, and so we need to have a voice we need to have a seat at the table, not because we deserve it, although we do, but because our contribution matters.

The World Health Organization deemed 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” and then we were hit with a global pandemic. Do you think that COVID-19 has changed the way people see nurses?

I think it really has. There are nurses who feel like, “Could we have a do-over please?” But I've seen so much really quality media coverage of nurses. It seems like this week alone, I've seen article after article about how much nurses are struggling, how difficult it is. (There was a nurse) who posted about having patients come in who still couldn't believe that they had COVID, who believe that COVID was a hoax. And she said they die angry, instead of being able to talk with their families.

Her story went viral, and she was interviewed on CNN and I saw that Newsweek was just writing about it, and The Washington Post wrote about it. This is wonderful, because it's really showing that intimacy that nurses have with patients. Excuse me, not that doctors don't have that. But it's very different when you're the one there, when the patient is at their most desperate. And you're trying to help them through that. So, I do think nurses are getting recognition that we deserve. And now I want there to be a building on that at a political level, there ends up being recognition of our importance.

After the petition, what are the next steps?

I would just really like to see an increased recognition of the importance of nurses. It's human. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago, and I'm okay. I just turned in the manuscript for my third book, which was really a meditation on that, and how it's that human element that's so often missing from health care. So much of that, I would attribute to a lot of money being spent to enrich a few people, instead of to make health care more humane.

But I think everyone feels that way, that that human element is missing. And including nurses in hospital boards, including nurses and advisory committees, including nurses in state task forces are so important to really get that human element in there and not just for patients. But also, nurses are trained to be educators. And year after year, we're rated the most trustworthy, most ethical professions, so patients trust us. And I would love to see nurses being used as an education campaign.

What is your advice for the next generation of nurses?

I would say, don't give up. This is a great job. It's a very, very important job. It doesn't get the respect it deserves. But that doesn't mean it's unworthy of respect. And so, your job and along with my job is to help the profession. Get more respect. Nurses often say just keep your head down. That's the way to get along. I would say no, not anymore. We have to keep our heads up. We have to raise our voices. We've got to advocate for our profession.

This should be the year of the nurses’ voice, I would say, and people need to start listening.

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