We’ve been sobered by the impact of COVID-19 on our personal and, during the past year, professional lives– questioning everything we thought we knew about handling a public health crisis. At times, we shunned the reality and depth of what was occurring, relaxed our guard, and paid the toll. It’s been a hard wake-up call, but one I hope and pray we’ve learned from.
We were warned enumerable times of the importance of simple yet highly effective protective measures: hand washing, masking, and social distancing, yet when the virus numbers began to reduce, we were not quite as diligent as in the beginning, and the numbers soared.
Nursing schools in California and throughout the United States rose up and faced the challenge head-on. Many schools, with state authorization, accelerated nurse training and released graduating nursing students early to help with COVID-19 care. And now, by utilizing students as vaccinators, schools are supporting vaccination clinics to get shots into arms as fast as the vaccine is available.
I believe the medical profession as a whole can use many key learnings from the past year to inform future endeavors. Key to our success and health will be a global awakening, wherein we will be proactive to stay ahead of any future emergence of a threatening pathogen. As an example of what we can expect to see in the future, CBSLA reports a grant awarded to UC researchers of $1.2 million that will help develop low-cost, easy-to-operate robots that can be used in a post-pandemic world, particularly with Latino communities in mind because they have been hit hardest by COVID-19 in California. These devices can perform remote healthcare exams and keep people connected with the world outside their homes.
It is hard to come to grips with the fact that it took a tragic, raging pandemic to develop innovative models of safe care. Truth is, robotics already exists in healthcare delivery, but we will now expand the possibilities to raise the priority of this and other related healthcare technology to a “must do now” status.
Nursing has always taken a proactive position in the delivery of safe, equitable healthcare. Our position has been strongly enhanced as we recognize and prepare for the work that must be continued to provide quality education for future bedside nurses and nurse leaders.
To further understand the impact of the Coronavirus on the nursing field, I got in touch with the School of Nursing’s faculty mentor, Michelle Altshuler, MSN-Ed, RN, CNE, to share her thoughts and perspective as an active certified nurse educator.
1) How has the nursing/healthcare field changed since the start of COVID-19?
Since the start of COVID-19, the nursing profession has become more challenged than ever before. Prior to the pandemic, it was known nationally that there has been a nursing shortage across the country. This lack of nursing staff became increasingly prevalent as nurses started contracting the virus as well.
Nurses have been offered huge sums of money to travel to areas where COVID is rampant. They are exhausted and stretched to their limits, unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years. Some go weeks or months without seeing or taking care of their families, let alone being given the time to properly ensure their own wellbeing. Despite these difficulties, the pandemic has made the public more aware of what nurses actually do and how critical they are to the healthcare industry. This revelation will hopefully push us toward improved practices that may help nurses do their jobs more safely and effectively.
From an academic perspective, nursing programs throughout the country have switched over to remote learning and virtual lab simulations to protect students from the virus. This is the first time many nursing students across the country had access to clinical training online, and several universities are beginning to see the benefits of this style of instruction. CalSouthern, a long-standing expert in 100% online education for over 40 years, certainly understands the importance of remote learning. Our programs are designed for the busy, working professional who choose to attend virtual classrooms. While schools with traditional learning environments have been faced with switching to online instruction, we were fortunate to seamlessly continue educating nurses across the globe via the web. I’m honored to serve as a faculty mentor for CalSouthern, which has allowed me the privilege to support the nurses of tomorrow and shape the careers of leaders in healthcare. I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future success of CalSouthern nursing graduates.
2) How has your personal and professional life been affected since the start of COVID 19?
My personal life has not been gravely affected by the pandemic, mainly because I was able to stay home and work remotely. Since I have chronic diseases, as do my children, it has been mentally stressful. I made sure to take extra care of my mental health during this time in order to effectively navigate my career as a nurse educator, where I unfortunately lost two young nursing students to COVID. This was devastating news. Other than that, my role as a faculty mentor for CalSouthern’s School of Nursing has not changed much, since we were online long before the pandemic.
3) From your perspective, what does the future hold for the nursing/healthcare field?
Though I have seen many nurses decide to retire early and many younger nurses depart from the field completely since the onset of the pandemic, I believe those who have stayed in the healthcare industry have become more skilled at infection control standards and management; they have also become more aware of universal precautions and will continue these best practices for years to come. This, I believe, is a positive outcome of the Coronavirus.
The pandemic has made it apparent that serious issues in the healthcare field need to be addressed in order to move forward effectively. The need for highly skilled nurses will always be there, and I believe they are valued much more now than in the past. I’m optimistic that the increased nursing shortage that occurred throughout the pandemic will inspire change – and that more skilled nurses will continue to enter the field as the years progress. For now, please remember the nurses in your lives are tired and the past year has tested them – but they are resilient, and they deserve a “thank you” from all of us.
4) What advice would you give the next generation of nurses/healthcare professionals entering the field?
I tell all of my learners and graduates to find an area they love. Nurses will be successful if they can find a practice they’re passionate about and excited to do every day. I also advise that all nurses should continue their education whether it be via formal schooling, additional certifications, or simply reading journals and evidenced-based practice articles. I would tell the next generation that they can make a difference, and they should get involved in legislation at all levels of government to advocate for change in any area of life they are passionate about – nursing included!