How COVID-19 Gives New Meaning to ‘Year of the Nurse’


By Jennifer Larson, contributor

2020 is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, a global celebration of these healthcare professionals who also consistently top the Gallup polls as the most trusted profession in the United States. But the arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic has turned 2020 into a year that no one quite expected. 

Things have changed dramatically in most, if not all, medical facilities. The surge of patients and the dangers of the coronavirus itself have made life incredibly challenging for the people who work there. But nurses have risen to the occasion. 

“The bravest and boldest are there on the front line,” said Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing (NLN). “These are our warriors, and these are our heroes, and my whole heart goes out to all of them.” 

Amid the challenges, Sophia Thomas, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), has found a silver lining. 

“There couldn’t be a better year for the Year of the Nurse. Nurses are shining right now,” said Thomas. “I think the world is seeing what our profession is able to do, the dedication, the strengths that nurses have, our commitment to our patients and our commitment to healthcare.”

Signs of appreciation for nurses

Many people around the country are grateful for the hard work and selfless dedication exhibited by nurses, and they’re letting it show. 

Murals depicting nurses and other healthcare professionals as angels and heroes have popped up on buildings and bridges in cities like Denver and Philadelphia. Companies have offered to provide hotel rooms, cellphone service and other services to them for free. A prominent toy company announced it is making a line of real-life hero action figures—and nurses are included. 

Individual nurses are also experiencing welcome support from their neighbors and friends.

For instance, when Glenda Hargrove, RN, arrives home from her job as a primary care and telehealth nurse at an Atlanta hospital, a group of signs in her yard greet her. “Thank you! Nurse Glenda,” reads one yard sign. Another announces, “Nurses R Awesome.” And still another says, “Glad 2 have an angel as a neighbor!” 

“Those signs make my heart full of gratitude,” said Hargrove. “It makes me feel really special and valued as a nurse and person.” 

Rachel Da Silva, RN, a maternity nurse at Bethesda Hospital East in Florida, is grateful for the appreciation that nurses have been receiving, too, like the special hours in stores for healthcare workers and discounts at restaurants.

“And people randomly thank you in the street,” she said, adding, “I am overwhelmed with all the support we have been getting lately.”

The opportunities to learn more about nursing

Many nurses say that the attention that nurses have received gives them, and their profession, an incredible opportunity. 

“What we have seen throughout this crisis is the power of nursing – unstoppable nurses leaning in, rushing in to care for the world.  This is what nursing does, what nursing has done, since the days of Florence Nightingale,” said Denise Buonocore, MSN, RN, ACNPC, CCNS, CCRN, CHFN, an acute care nurse practitioner for heart failure services at St. Vincent's Multispecialty Group, St. Vincent's Medical Center, Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

“However, this time is different,” Buonocore continued. “Because of the devastating effects of this disease, nursing has been thrust into the spotlight. Nurses are being interviewed on TV, in social media etc. In effect, the pandemic created a platform for the world to understand the power of nursing."

There’s an opportunity for nurse practitioners, as well. A growing number of states have temporarily suspended restrictions to practice for nurse practitioners as the pandemic has unfolded. 

Thomas notes that at least five states have temporarily removed barriers to full practice authority for nurse practitioners since the pandemic started, adding to the total number of states with full practice authority. 

“A lot of these waivers have a defined period of time. For example, in Louisiana, it’s until the end of the crisis or the state of emergency is over. When the state of emergency is lifted, we’re supposed to go back to the way thing are,” she said. “But this is an opportunity to have conversations about making these things permanent.”

“Hopefully with all of this, we’ll get legislators talking,” Thomas continued. “Certainly, nurse practitioners have shown during this time, and I think the public is seeing, what our practice is.” 

What would nurses like to see in the future?

Can this outpouring of appreciation for nurses continue into the future? What would that look like? And more importantly, what needs to happen, according to nurses and nursing leaders?

“Going forward, nurses deserve recognition in the form of things that make us better nurses, such as safe staffing and good work–life balance,” said Hargrove. 

And Buonocore hopes that support for nurses will be able to receive mental and emotional healthcare to address the needs that won’t go away when the pandemic finally ebbs. 

“The psychological effects and moral distress resulting from this crisis will be ongoing, and I hope that the support services some organizations are providing to staff will be available to all and will continue into the future,” she said. 

Lesly Kelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse scientist with CommonSpirit Health and an associate clinical professor at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University, agreed that there will likely to be some significant post-traumatic stress to address after the pandemic is over. She hopes that other needs of these nurses who have been working hard and putting others’ needs above their own will not be forgotten. 

“Long after the Year of the Nurse and the coronavirus crisis, I hope we continue to celebrate the unique contributions nurses bring to our communities,” said Kelly. “I hope the increased awareness and recognition also translate into tangible resources and long-term support for nurses and other healthcare workers.”

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