by Courtney Mitchell
Ashley Leak Bryant, PhD, RN-BC, OCN, practicing oncology nurse, associate professor and SON alumni association president, and Cheryl Woods Giscombe, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, FAAN, Melissa and Harry LeVine Family Distinguished Term Associate Professor in Quality of Life, Health Promotion and Wellness, update our community about the stresses facing nursing right now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and what we can all do to help.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting nurses who are actively working in clinics and hospitals?
ALB: Practicing nurses and those who support them are feeling uncertain and overwhelmed by the current health crisis. Nurses are managing complex patient situations while remaining resilient. More than ever, nurses need emotional support and want to be heard. They need to be acknowledged for their skills and appreciated for their care. It’s important to see this from our leadership, fellow health care employees, families and work families. Our SON leaders acknowledge, appreciate, and recognize our alumni who consistently provide person and family centered care during this time.
CWG: These are really challenging times for everyone, and particularly for nurses. Our lives are built around caring for others, and we’re so overwhelmed that our capacity can be limited. What can we do to care for ourselves? Delivering great care depends on refilling our tanks, too.
What is important for nurses to know right now as we face this crisis?
ALB: No matter what we encounter, we have to continue to provide excellent nursing care we’ve always provided. Some nurses are on the front lines of COVID-19, and some of us are treating patients who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We can’t be so overwhelmed with the news of the pandemic that we’re taking our minds off other patients and their critical needs.
CWG: We can take care of ourselves and nurses can take care of one another. We have such compassion and empathy for others, and now it’s time to have that for ourselves. Here at UNC, we’re providing a lot of mental health resources for nurses and nursing students, and our entire community, that help build our resilience, because we don’t know how long this pandemic will last.
How can nurses cope with the stress of the pandemic?
CWB: Mindfulness exercises are really helpful, and the health care community has been turning to this more than ever. Something great to practice is loving kindness meditation, where you turn that kindness inside toward yourself, but also to those you love, and to strangers and our whole society. This is a real opportunity to develop new coping skills in times of uncertainty, and mindfulness is proven to make people better providers – accessing that peace and calm when times are tough allows us to give the best care.
ALB: Nurses are historically prepared for health care crises, and this is no different – the nation needs and trusts us. With that trusted position comes a measure of economic security in this situation that people in other occupations might not have right now. We all have pressures, and a lot of people are suffering, but we are privileged to have this position. Keeping that in perspective goes a long way in helping us remain strong and stay focused on what really matters – caring for patients and for one another.
What can nurses who aren’t working at the bedside do during COVID-19?
CWG: Put on your educator hat. Hold conference calls to answer questions from your friends, faith groups, community groups, those who look to you. Support nurses by reminding them to help themselves and care for themselves. Coordinate meals for nurses or find groups to donate to who are helping the mission. And, use your networks – connect nurses in practice by finding the equipment or PPE they might need.
ALB: Staying informed on the latest developments and looking to our professional organizations like the American Nurses Association for guidance is incredibly helpful. Ask UNC Nursing what donations or resources could be most helpful right now. Use your influence – remind people where to turn to for credible COVID-19 facts, evidence-based sources like the CDC and the NIH. Nurses are the most trusted profession, and we have been for many years. You can be that trusted person, no matter where you are.