COVID-19 has transformed virtually every aspect of life on a global scale. As you might expect, few industries have been hit as hard as the healthcare field. Whether you’re considering a career in nursing or you just want to understand how the heroes on the frontlines are holding up, it’s important to stay aware of what’s happening behind the scenes.
While the duties of a nurse have never been for the faint of heart, it’s very clear that nurses in 2020 are dealing with a myriad of new challenges. At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity for anyone considering a nursing career to dive in and learn valuable lessons that can only be fully instilled through first-hand experience.
Read on for an in-depth look at how the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has impacted the nursing career.
Demand for Nurses Skyrockets
It’s no secret that hospitals have been overwhelmed. While social distancing has helped to flatten the curve, most healthcare facilities simply weren’t (and still aren’t) equipped to handle the massive influx of patients.
Unsurprisingly, nursing is one of the most common medical careers in demand. Before the pandemic, there was already concern about a growing shortage of nurses. Naturally, the pandemic has compounded these worries.
According to the American Nurses Association, over 500,000 long-serving nurses are expected to retire by 2022. Additionally, the average age of RNs is on the rise, shifting from an average age of 42.7 years old in 2000 to 44.6 years old in 2010.
Because of these changing dynamics, as well as the increased access to public healthcare, it’s expected that there will be more than 100,000 nursing jobs open per year by 2022 — significantly more than any other profession.
Of course, these figures don’t take the COVID-19 crisis into account. In some areas — New York City, for example — hospitals have been hit so hard that they’ve requested that retired nurses return to work. Similarly, executive orders have been passed allowing nursing students to work before their official graduation or certification.
Practice Agreements Are Temporarily Waived
Due to the aforementioned shortage of nurses, nurses in some states have had their practice agreements waived, allowing them to perform duties that may have previously required doctor supervision or additional certification. These changes may also allow for more prescriptive authority.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, as of May 26, 2020, 22 states have already modified their practice agreement requirements. It’s a logical step during the pandemic, as it simply doesn’t make sense for red tape to hinder critical duties, especially when every second count.
While removing restrictions may seem like a potentially dangerous decision, the reality is that most of these nurses have attended school for years and are fully trained and well-versed in their new duties. Although there may be challenges along the way, it has become abundantly clear that these brave professionals are ready to meet them head-on.
While the vast majority of essential workers have yet to receive hazard pay, nurses are seeing a boost in wages, thanks to crisis pay. As the name implies, crisis pay refers to increased wages due to a crisis that requires personnel to work in dangerous conditions or for more hours than usual.
Additionally, many nurses are now performing more in-depth duties and taking on more responsibilities, so it makes sense that they would be compensated accordingly. This may not be the promotion they were waiting for, but at least there’s a silver lining. Positions that may have taken years to obtain are now much more attainable.
Equipment Shortages Continue
Just like any other profession, nurses need to prepare for the coronavirus at work. One of the biggest challenges medical personnel is facing is a lack of critical PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strategies have been implemented to optimize, prioritize, and conserve essential equipment, including the following:
- N95 respirators.
- Face masks.
- Eye protection.
- Isolation gowns.
Telehealth & Private Nursing Grows in Popularity
Modern technology has played a vital role in keeping hospitals from becoming overcrowded. Not everyone needs to be seen in-person, especially for an initial diagnosis. Even those who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 may not require hospitalization until symptoms become severe and a patient needs to use a ventilator.
Most people can treat COVID-19 symptoms at home, just like having the flu or a cold. To reserve limited hospital space for those who need intensive care, many medical professionals have started offering virtual appointments via webcam interactions. It makes sense, as many appointments don’t require physical touch, medications, or equipment.
Beyond reducing surges that could overwhelm hospitals, telehealth is important because it reaches people who aren’t able to see a doctor.
For example, someone who lives in a rural area may find that connecting with a doctor online is significantly easier than driving hours to a potentially overcrowded hospital. Additionally, people who are handicapped may prefer the convenience that telehealth offers.
For these same reasons, many individuals and families are also turning to private duty nurses for personalized, at-home care. Whether a patient is recovering from surgery or contained in their home for other reasons, private duty nurses bring medical care directly to the patient.
Not only do telehealth and private duty nurses help people at home, but it helps ease the burden on the medical system as the pandemic takes place. Because the symptoms of COVID-19 can resemble a common cold or flu, it’s understandable that people may be anxious if they feel even slightly under the weather. The problem is that the majority of those fears are unfounded.
If every person who felt sick went to the hospital for a diagnosis, it would be impossible to treat those who do, in fact, have COVID-19. Telehealth and private duty nursing allow worried people to gain peace of mind or determine if they need to seek treatment while staying at home and without overwhelming the system.
Nurses Get a Boost in the Public Eye
Public perception of nurses has always been positive — these are the people who work tirelessly to keep our loved ones safe and healthy, after all — but this crisis has cast a glaring spotlight on the true selflessness of the job.
It’s no surprise that people all over the world are gaining a new appreciation for the heroes working on the frontlines, not just in the healthcare industry, but in all industries that have been forced to remain open to retain at least a small semblance of normalcy in these unprecedented times.
COVID-19 has reshaped many aspects of society, and, in many cases, those changes are going to be permanent. The majority of these changes aren’t ideal, but there are positive outcomes. Nurses are finally getting their long-overdue credit. While these men and women don’t do it for the glory, they deserve every bit of praise they get — now and in the future.
Mental Health Suffers
Despite the glowing praise for healthcare professionals, they’re not immune to the severe mental and emotional trauma that comes with being on the frontlines of a global pandemic. Nurses are human beings, and it’s not surprising that they would be experiencing feelings of anxiety and fear about their own safety, as well as the health of their patients.
The pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, but nurses truly are at the forefront of the crisis. Not only are they the most at risk of getting the virus, but they’re seeing the damage the virus can do first-hand.
If you ask any nurse, they’ll tell you that even one casualty is devastating – there’s a feeling of guilt that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
Beyond the emotional toll of fearing for one’s own life and lamenting the struggles of others, many nurses are frustrated because of a lack of PPE and testing. Handling a global health crisis is already a huge burden, but attempting to navigate these uncharted territories without the proper tools and protocol is creating unprecedented levels of stress.
Job Seekers Still Seek Nursing Positions
Because COVID-19 has caused an economic crisis in addition to a health crisis, plenty of people are seeking new business opportunities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, you can’t just apply to become a nurse and then get hired the next day, but this pandemic is inspiring a lot of people to pursue careers in the healthcare industry.
It speaks to the human spirit that people are still interested in becoming nurses — despite the turmoil surrounding the industry — so they can help others in this difficult time and in the future. Anyone who has ever felt a call to make a difference in the world has an opportunity to join the ranks of heroes who have become the backbone of society.
If you want a serious crash course on all that being a nurse entails, there’s never been a better time to sign up. On average, nursing assistant programs take 4-12 weeks to complete and become certified, so it’s not too late to join the heroes on the frontlines.
Beyond noble intentions, there are plenty of practical reasons to seek a career in nursing. The current crisis pay is extremely attractive, although you’re going to be earning it. No matter what happens, a nursing job is one of the most stable positions out there — you’ll always have job opportunities available.
It’s worth noting that although many folks are pursuing medical careers, there will probably be a major shortage of nurses in the near and distant future.
There’s no denying the toll that the crisis is taking on nurses, and many of them will want to retire for good when all is said and done. Additionally, many nurses may realize that the healthcare industry just isn’t for them, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. It takes a special kind of fortitude that most people just don’t possess to deal with such strife day after day.
Medical Professionals Fight Misinformation
The internet is an incredible resource, but it can also be detrimental. Because of misinformation online, medical professionals have been forced into educator positions, in addition to their usual duties. As it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, doctors, nurses, and specialists must become even more vigilant to combat the spread of harmful, false information.
This aspect of a nurse’s job often goes overlooked. Medical professionals aren’t just treating people; they’re providing the critical information required to make informed decisions. Nurses have realized that they need to be 100% confident in their knowledge so they don’t accidentally contribute to the spread of misleading information, and in some cases, outright lies.
Medical Professionals Continue to Adapt
Nurses have always been quick to meet new challenges, and this crisis has made that abundantly clear. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to be able to adapt by the second has become a much more essential skill. It’s easy to get comfortable in any position, and for many medical professionals, this pandemic has been a wake-up call.
Even when this pandemic is over, it will serve as a permanent reminder that nothing is set in stone. In the blink of an eye, life can change dramatically. Moving forward, there’s little doubt that nurses will always be on the lookout for the next big crisis so humanity isn’t blindsided again.
The existential impact of COVID-19 remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that it will directly affect the mindsets of medical workers, not to mention hospital protocol and planning. This pandemic will serve as a valuable lesson that will inspire important changes in how hospitals prepare for and cope with large-scale health crises.
The Nursing Career Remains Steadfast
Nurses are some of the most resilient people out there. All of these changes to the industry are daunting, but it’s important to note that the industry has also remained stable in many ways. All over the world, medical professionals have proven that even a major catastrophe will not stand in their way. When obstacles arise, solutions are found.
Although the outcome of the pandemic remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: The courageous women and men at the frontlines will continue to sacrifice their safety for society, and they’re owed a massive debt of gratitude that can never truly be paid. No matter how much the nursing career evolves, there will always be heroes willing to sign up. Keep them in your thoughts, and let them know they’re appreciated.