Advice for Nurses Working Through the Pandemic

As any nurse will tell you, these are not normal times. All over the country—all over the world, in fact—nurses are entering hospitals and clinics, filled with uncertainties about caring for patients with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

They are concerned for their patients, who must be hospitalized without access to family members. They are also concerned for their own safety, and that of their families.

But they show up anyway, ready to provide the very best in patient care.

Some are full-time staff nurses. Some are travel nurses on assignment. Some are retired nurses returning temporarily to the workforce to help out. Yet, they are all working together, showing leadership through this pandemic that has been an inspiration to many.

“The valiant way in which our nurses are rising to the challenge of this rallying cry is genuinely inspiring,” said Lori Armstrong, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CEO and chief clinical officer for Inspire Nurse Leaders, a consulting and coaching firm. “I have never been more proud to be a nurse.”

Armstrong and some fellow nurse leaders recently shared some key strategies to help nurses work through this global pandemic—and in the months that will follow.

Acknowledge the uniqueness of the situation at hand

No one taking care of patients at the bedside has ever worked in a situation quite like the current global pandemic.

“We have never been in a situation like this,” said Lorie Brown, RN, MN, JD, president-elect of the American Association of Nurse Attorneys.

“This is unprecedented,” agreed Bimbola Akintade, PhD, MBA, MHA, ACNP-BC, associate professor and associate dean for the Master of Science in Nursing program at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “I don’t think any of us have seen anything like this, or anticipated anything like this.”

Akintade calls nurses on the front lines “heroes” and wants them to know how much they are appreciated for what they are doing.

“Where others have to stay home to flatten the curve, they are required to be at the front line to take care of patients,” he said.

So, it’s okay to need some time to fully grasp how unusual this current pandemic is—and how the entire healthcare system is constantly having to pivot to address new challenges.

Take advantage of resources available to you

“Nurses must practice self-care, which has never been more essential than it is now,” said Armstrong. “Nurses are intuitive healers and caregivers. But if they don’t renew themselves along the way, they can compromise their health and well-being while helping others heal. For frontline nurses and nurse leaders, they must practice daily self-care.”

That doesn’t mean you have to figure it out by yourself, or soldier through this pandemic alone.

Brown has created a resource that she calls the COVID-19 Survival Guide for Nurses and Health Care Practitioners. It is a collection of stories and advice from a variety of healthcare professionals, highlighting strategies to help clinicians protect themselves, including body, mind and spirit.

Nurses can also turn to guidance from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. The APNA has developed a list of stress management tips for nurses during the COVID-19 crisis, which include:

  • Understand your reactions–and those of others around you­–and have self-compassion. These feelings are not an indicator of weakness.
  • Monitor your well-being. Watch for symptoms of traumatic stress and reach out for help if you notice any symptoms impeding your ability to care for your patients.
  • Activate your parasympathetic nervous system, with stress-relieving strategies like deep breathing and using available channels to stay connected to people you love.
  • Make time for your mental health needs. Set aside some time for self-care that you need, and don’t be afraid to take breaks from the news about the coronavirus.

Armstrong also suggested seeking out someone to talk to. “Talk to a good listener,” she said. “Community is crucial here. Sharing your thoughts, fears, and concerns with an understanding listener, including trained crisis-debriefing professionals and fellow nurses, can help to clear the stress.”

If you are employed full-time, your employer will offer access to an employee assistance program, or EAP. Don’t hesitate to use that resource, said Brown.

And of course, don’t forget to follow all the infection control and personal protection equipment (PPE) policies on the job to keep yourself as safe as possible. Armstrong added that it’s also important to follow a proper decontamination process when you arrive home, to avoid potentially exposing anyone in your home to the virus.

AMN Healthcare has also put together a number of resources to provide support and information for healthcare practitioners during the current pandemic.

Seek help when it’s over

At some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future, the worst of the storm will pass. The coronavirus emergency will draw to a close. But the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of nurses and others on the front lines will take even longer to begin to fade.

“You’re going to be traumatized. That’s the only way to put it nicely,” said Brown.

Thus, it will be just as important to address your mental health when the pandemic is over, when you have time to process your emotions and deal with them.