New York, NY – Being a nurse is a calling and we love what we do. However, the work is challenging, especially now as we are still in the throes of COVID after nearly two years. Coming out of years of pandemic hardship, New York spent the bulk of 2021 hosting several parades, celebratory events, and ceremonies reflecting on the sacrifices and hard work of health care professionals during the height of COVID-19. As a city, we told ourselves ‘never again’ and vowed to learn from those experiences to avoid ever having to put our medical staff, frontline workers, first responders and our families under the same burden. Yet, as we celebrate nurses across the nation this year, research shows our responsibility and COVID burdens persist.
According to the latest national statistics, 18% of health care workers quit their jobs during the pandemic, and 31% have considered leaving. The pandemic has also taken its toll on nurses’ mental health as 51% of health care workers said their mental health has gotten worse during the pandemic, while another 42% said their day-to-day lives have suffered during the pandemic. Given these alarming figures and compounded challenges, we as a country will need more than just parades to help address the plight of nurses brought on by COVID-19. Our job was difficult before COVID, but the disease took a significant toll on the nursing profession overall.
For some, it may be effortless to wax on about the surges of patients, possible remedies, and the many deaths related to the coronavirus disease. However, it is another thing entirely to live it–every day. And as many ponder solutions of what to do to further support nurses in the long-term, healers need space to heal themselves immediately. As nurses, we need to develop individual measures for self-care in the short term because our patients need us. Our families need us, and most importantly, we need it for ourselves. Some practical measures I have used — and encourage my team of nurses to use — include meditation, prayer, therapy, exercise, treating yourself, and accessing the many available resources out there to help us recover and recharge.
We also need to protect ourselves as the virus spins off into new variants, and the nation passes one million dead due to COVID-19. To stave off another major spread, we also need the public to take advantage of the medical progress made to combat this disease by getting tested, vaccinated when eligible, getting a booster immunization, and masking up when required. Moreover, we need our local leaders to support and supply additional resources to help recruit and retain nurses, not only during this challenging period, but also into the future.
All of us can still recall the endless blare of sirens from the ambulances racing toward our overcrowded hospitals or seeing health care staff operating out of makeshift ICUs as means to treat the overwhelming ill, or worse the many parking-lot morgues set up by care teams. Those days will forever haunt our memories. But let them also be reminders that we must continue to treat COVID seriously, or I fear we will revert to an overburdened health care workforce that is beyond depleted now. Thus, to honor nurses and their hard work as part of this year’s National Nurses Week, let us all recommit ourselves to do everything in our power to help support, strengthen, rebuild, and appreciate our valued caretakers this year and beyond.