Nurses Week 2021: Reflections on the Past Year

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A nurse, the logos for the American Nurses Association Nurses Month and the text You Make a Difference

May 6-12 is Nurses Week 2021. We are grateful for all that nurses do and have done for us, particularly during the past year.

I’m a Nurse – What’s Your Superpower? I have this saying printed on a wooden sign sitting on the windowsill in my home office. I purchased it at a gift shop in a large Boston medical center nearly two years ago as I was ambling through the store passing the time while anxiously awaiting word of a family member’s condition after major surgery. I kept that sign in my workspace until last March when we shifted abruptly from onsite to remote employment due to the COVID-19 virus. I packed up my personal belongings and began what I thought would be a short-term stint working from home. Little did I know that the coronavirus disease would become a worldwide pandemic impacting our lives in so many ways and making this sign such a powerful representation of the nursing profession.

During the past year, we faced challenges affecting our personal lives we’ve never encountered before: supply shortages in grocery stores, closures of favorite restaurants, limited access to services we took for granted, remote and hybrid schooling for grades K- 12 and constraints on family gatherings. There were also restrictions imposed on domestic and international travel. Mother Nature contributed in other unexpected ways with floods, snow and ice storms, wildfires, and droughts. Nurses Week is a time to pause and reflect on the lived experiences of nurses.

Rising to the Challenge

At work, nurses encountered limitations on supplies. Personal protective equipment became a scarce commodity. The level of care increased to address preventive measures. Patients testing positive for COVID-19 needed higher levels of treatment and interventions from multiple professionals. Plus, restrictions were placed on visitors. No visitors for patients and residents required virtual electronic visits adding to a nurse’s responsibilities. During end-of-life care, nurses became the patient care provider and family support for their loved ones. And many healthcare workers self-isolated from their families to prevent exposing loved ones to the virus.

Miraculously, nurses rose to the challenge. Nurses demonstrated flexibility to adapt and overcome these hurdles. Screening and testing for the virus became a new standard. Appointments for healthcare transitioned from office appointments to telehealth engagements. Triage nurses became skilled at screening care needs and promoting technology. Family visits became scheduled times with iPads and cellphones. Cleaning and disinfecting were taken to a whole new level. Additional precautions were implemented to halt the spread of the virus.

Nursing Programs Adapt

At Southern New Hampshire University, nursing programs have delivered teaching online but our work necessitated major changes in several aspects due to the pandemic. The plans for a continuing education event shifted from a synchronous, in-person event to a virtual online conference. This required multiple hours of planning to accommodate speakers, technology, practice sessions, and participants within a new forum. Graduate nursing education capstone experiences have an expanded virtual opportunity to engage with educators, interprofessional peers, and employers to create innovative and meaningful learning. The Higher Education and Real World Training (HEaRT) experiences provide value for relevant learning while maintaining safety. Undergraduate clinical practice experiences offered some accommodations to demonstrate skills while learners maintained isolation or minimized exposure during the pandemic. These efforts were implemented by our nursing faculty and clinical support staff who worked diligently to ensure students’ needs were met. SNHU nurse educators were part of the solution and deserve acknowledgment during Nurses Week.

What’s Next?

There is hope on the horizon as we look ahead in 2021 and beyond. The seasons are evolving, providing longer days and milder weather. Schools are offering hybrid schedules and in-person education for children. The nation has rolled out vaccinations in all states. Gradually, communities are gaining some protection from the virus. We are adapting to the “new normal” lifestyle dictated by the pandemic.

Nursing associations are also changing and adapting to the new normal. There are refreshed logos for the National League for Nursing (NLN) and Sigma Theta Tau International. The NLN has extended the “Year of the Midwife and Nurse” to acknowledge the contributions of nursing to the health and well-being of our populations. Sigma has rolled out research on the professional identity of the nurse to illustrate the characteristics that make a nurse so unique. The American Nurses’ Association is honoring nurses by seeking photos and stories and recommending self-care measures in response to efforts during the pandemic. Nurses Week is a great time to visit these sites for more information.

So, let’s look ahead with a renewed sense of commitment to nursing. We can take a lesson from Dr. Millisa Manolovich’s (2007) article, “Power and Empowerment in Nursing: Looking Backward to Inform the Future,” in which she wrote that empowerment requires three features: caring relationships, acknowledgment in the workplace, and an intrinsic belief of the effectiveness in the role of nursing. I believe that the past year has shown that nurses have demonstrated their superpower in these ways.

As a result of the care nurses have given during this pandemic, there is an increased interest in nursing as a career path. Nursing schools are seeing more students applying to their programs. We need to encourage the next generation of nurses to pursue their passions in order to continue our great work.

Nurses’ contributions have not gone unrecognized. We have shown an ability to adapt and overcome challenges. The work we do has been noticed by many this year. Let’s continue to show our superpower!

Wishing you continued health. Stay well!

#ImaNurseWhatsYourSuperPower

Margaret Moriarty-LitzMargaret (Peggy) Moriarty-Litz, EdD, MS, RN, CNE is the chief nursing administrator and executive director of nursing programs at Southern New Hampshire University. You can connect with Moriarty-Litz on LinkedIn.

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