Nursing In a Pandemic: Is This What We Signed Up For?
Stephanie L. Jackson, MSN, RN, AOCNS, BMTCN
Frontline workers need self care now more than ever.
Since the onset of the outbreak of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), health care providers — particularly physicians and nurses – have continued to sacrifice their own health for the sake of their patients. Despite the fact that more than 600 frontline workers that have died of this illness, they still work long hours, often wondering if their efforts will improve the outcomes of their patients. They internally fear being exposed and risk their personal health and that of their love ones upon returning home. On their days off, they continue to adhere to the personal protective equipment guidelines and limit contact with their family despite just wanting to have self-care.
But yet one may say “that’s what they signed up for.” But is this what we signed up for? Has anyone stopped to inquire how we feel? If you asked anyone in the medical field why we keep going, the answer would probably be “because we care.”
Research has shown that those who work in high-risk departments have close contact with patients greater than 12 times a day, and do not adhere to the appropriate protective equipment have a significant risk for challenges to their own health.1 These challenges include skin damage related to prolonged PPE requirements, depression, anxiety, and distress. Three strategies that are highly recommended to assist the mental well-being of healthcare workers during these stressful times include:
- Pace yourself. We don’t know when this will end so it is best to pace yourself. Do your best for each patient so when you leave your shift there will be no regrets.
- Don’t internalize your anger. It can be frustrating working long hours, not having appropriate PPE and being asked to do extra when others are working from home. Acknowledge your frustration and do not hold your anger inside. Holding in your feelings can lead to depression.
- Let people help. We did not sign up to be a hero. We signed up to serve and assist our patients during their time of illness through restoration of their health. Prolonged stress during this season can be very exhausting. Let others help you and don’t feel guilty for it. There are people who take pleasure in helping frontline workers to ensure we have what we need personally to care for others.2
Thank you to all the healthcare workers who care. It is not easy to keep sacrificing your life, health, and well-being for others however the labor is greatly appreciated.
1. Shaukat, N., Ali, D.M. & Razzak, J. Physical and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on healthcare workers: a scoping review. Int J Emerg Med 13, 40 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12245-020-00299-5
2. Sobel, S. (2020). Top 10 Coping Strategies for Hospital Health Care Workers. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/successful-psychiatry/202004/top-10-coping-strategies-hospital-health-care-workers.
Stephanie Jackson is co-editor in chief of Oncology Nursing News and a nationally board-certified clinical nurse specialist specializing in oncology and bone marrow transplantation. She is currently the clinical nurse specialist for the hematology/stem cell transplantation units at a large academic medical center in Los Angeles, California. She has over 2 decades of nursing experience which includes various positions such as acute care, ambulatory, academia, home health, and hospice. She is a member of several professional nursing and community organizations. Some notable mentions include the National Council of Clinical Nurse Specialist, Association of Clinical Nurse Leaders and Oncology Nurses Society. She is the former president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of Oncology Nursing Society and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. It is without doubt that her passion for oncology patient stems from her own experience and survival of childhood cancer.