Nurse with gloves on holding up Coronavirus red sign

Nurses are multi-taskers, critical thinkers, task-completers, and overall hard workers. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, communities are depending on nurses more than ever before. This means that it's especially important for us to prioritize nurses' wellbeing so that they can continue caring for their patients.

What does care for nurses look like? Strategies include maintaining proper nurse-patient ratios, keeping essential supplies stocked, ensuring that every nurse takes a break during their shift, and providing nurses with adequate resources to provide safe patient care during each shift. While management tackles these larger issues, what steps can nurses take during each shift to protect our fellow nurses?

Teamwork

It might sound cliche, but relying on your team of nurses is the best way to maintain a sense of control during the crisis. Nurses know the strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues, such as which nurse to call for IV help, which nurse to call for a difficult family situation, and which nurse to call if a patient is declining. Every nurse has different strengths, and it's critical to use these strengths to your advantage.

It's also important for nurses to recognize when their team needs help. Nurses are notorious for being territorial over their patients and stubborn about admitting when they need help. With many departments in the hospital limiting their services, there are nurses, medical assistants, and other ancillary staff being reappropriated to areas affected by COVID-19. Nurses need to protect their team and themselves by leaning on others for help when necessary.

The CDC has released recommendations regarding staffing shortages. "Contingency capacity strategies for healthcare facilities include: Adjusting staff schedules, hiring additional HCP, and rotating HCP to positions that support patient care activities." If your healthcare system is utilizing these practices, welcome these helpers! Guide them in how they can best assist, show them the ropes of your unit, and let them know how much you appreciate their help. Who knows? Your unit may end up gaining a valuable permanent member of your team.

Educate

Educate yourself on the latest COVID-19 news. Read the daily email blasts sent out by your employer, check the CDC website regularly to find the latest recommendations, and scroll your favorite nursing blog for encouragement. Protect yourself and your fellow nurses by brushing up on isolation standards and understanding the latest information regarding PPE and supplies. While nurses are working in healthcare at a time when our needs should be met, we're still finding ourselves scrambling for supplies and debating whether a disposable surgical mask will withstand sterilization for further use. Read the credibly-sourced information provided by your employer to make sure you are protecting yourself and your colleagues.


In addition to staying up-to-date with valuable information, know that nurses across the healthcare system have your best interests at heart. There are many nursing organizations that can provide helpful information, as well as guidelines on safe working environments. For instance, National Nurses United is reminding nurses to take protective measures: "Hospitals and other healthcare employers have the duty and responsibility to prepare ahead of time to protect staff and patients." Their website is full of resources including information about the virus, articles about PPE, and recommendations for safe nursing practices. There is even a survey for nurses to gauge whether their employer has the correct steps in place to protect their employees from exposure. Seek out and utilize these resources—they are in place for the benefit of nurses!

Boost Morale

Never underestimate the power of food to lift someone's spirits. There is always an opportunity to organize a food-centered gathering in nursing breakrooms, whether it's a pitch-in, carry-in, or potluck. As simple as it seems, this is a great way to foster a sense of community and make nurses feel special (as well as prevent widespread hanger!). If asking the staff to prepare food is too difficult, organize a carry-out food delivery from a local restaurant. This way, you're also supporting restaurants that are struggling for business due to the shelter-in-place orders throughout the country. There are also a number of large chain companies that are offering freebies to frontline staff. The spread of Krispy Kreme donuts is the perfect way to start a long shift.

This pandemic is not picking and choosing who it affects. All nurses are at risk, from the recent college graduate to the seasoned nurse with an elderly parent at home. Nurses aren't working on the sidelines. We are frontline workers, and we must do everything we can to protect ourselves and our fellow nurses. Maintain a teamwork mindset, educate yourself on the latest COVID updates, and never underestimate the little things you can do to boost morale during this challenging time.

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Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB
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