Covid-19 and The ‘Year of The Nurse’

By Angela Babaev, DNP

As some of you may know, the World Health Organization named 2020 the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” as it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. What a year to set aside for nurses! When picturing the year of the nurse, we imagined a celebration – not a pandemic – and certainly would have hoped for a more propitious year. Nursing has changed a great deal in 200 years, and a year of recognition for how far we have come as a profession is still great in its own way.

Florence Nightingale, also known as the “Lady with the Lamp,” was strong-willed and felt nursing was her true calling in life. Within a year of her first job, she was chosen as the superintendent of her hospital. In this role, Nightingale improved hygiene standards, significantly lowered the death rate by administering high quality care, and promoted infection prevention methods.

Four years later, the Secretary of State reached out to Nightingale for help to care for the fallen soldiers in the Crimean war. Nightingale assembled a team of 38 nurses and arrived in Crimea a few days later. While there, Nightingale continually sought out ways to meet the needs of the sick, wounded, and infected patients.

How did Nightingale do it? She was fearless and possessed boundless confidence and courage. She acted upon her convictions and encouraged her fellow nurses to follow her path.

Two hundred years later, nursing is very different in many ways. The adversity that we are facing in modern times is unique and has many of us trapped by the anxiety of the unknown. As initially advocated by Nightingale, nurses have always played an important role in infection prevention, containment, and public health. Providing these aspects of care at this capricious time, all the nurses around the world are working under enormous pressure to battle this life-threatening virus. Unfortunately, nurses are not only fighting the virus but also facing a humanitarian crisis – all while putting their own lives on the line.

Luckily, Nightingale has wisdom for today’s challenges as well. She knew the work of caring for others is sacred, and that courage was what motivated nurses in Crimea to continue to give care no matter the circumstances. In Crimea, the nurses had to adapt to an unfamiliar environment, with low supplies and resources, all while having too many patients. These patients were also separated from their families –leaving Nightingale in a situation uncannily similar to ours today.

I am proud to say that I see the qualities Nightingale possessed reflected in our nursing staff today. Nurses are strong-willed caregivers who continually seek to meet the needs of their patients. They are determined clinicians who do not give excuses, but show up shift after shift to provide care, help, educate, lead, and advocate.

The word resilience is used a lot these days, as it has become somewhat of a buzzword in nursing. If we take the word resilience to mean “the ability of an individual to withstand adversity,” then all of our nurses embody what it means to have resilience. A supportive work culture is vital for strengthening the front lines. Organizational leaders have provided absolute support with clear messages that all healthcare providers are valued in managing this crisis together.

This year, we have seen nurses take on the challenge of COVID-19. When patients started showing up in the ED, nurses received and treated them demonstrating excellent teamwork. When the hospital was stopping elective surgeries, nurses from those areas quickly stepped in to help EDs and ICUs that were overrun with COVID patients. When there was a need for 24/7 coverage, nurses stepped up to the plate, provided support, and advocated for the sick and vulnerable. When there was a need to bring in new hires, to train, and to support additional personnel, nurses stepped in to meet the need.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the other healthcare workers Nightingale identified as being essential to the care of a patient: nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, environmental services, physical and occupational therapists, chaplains, dieticians, and physicians. It was Nightingale’s view of patients as humans needing holistic care that revolutionized patient care in hospitals in her time.

I do not think there is anyone who could doubt that 2020 is, in fact, the year of the nurse. It has been an inspiration to see the confidence and courage of our nurses who are fearless and sacrifice so much. This year looks very different, but nurses do not. Recognized or not, nurses have been and will continue to provide compassionate care to patients. Nightingale would have not only approved, but would have extolled your efforts