The World House Organization has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in conjunction with the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale. This is the first time the WHO as ever declared it the year of anything, and the organization intended this designation the to highlight the contributions of nurses and midwives in the health care system and to show that they represent the bridge between the community and health institutions. The organization also wanted to mobilize nurses globally to help achieve universal health coverage, and to address the shortage of these professions.
Organizations, including Penn Nursing, originally planned this year to celebrate the critical contributions nurses make at the bedside and beyond and to advocate for nursing and healthcare issues. But COVID-19 overtook these planned events, dramatically illustrating nurses’ importance in a way that no symposium could. The courage nurses are showing during this pandemic exemplifies why it is important now more than ever to recognize the power of nursing.
Nurses are on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19, and yet most do not have the necessary supplies to protect themselves or take care of patients. So little is still known about treating COVID-19, and 50% of patients who are placed on a ventilator because of COVID-19 complications still die. There is an inadequate amount of personal protective equipment for nurses. The first New York City nurse to die from COVID-19, Kious Kelly, worked on a unit where nurses had to wear garbage bags because the hospital had reportedly run out of personal protective equipment. They are forced to wear a single mask all day when these are designed as one-time use only. Testing remains inadequate, to the point where nurses sometimes do not know if the patient does or does not have the disease. Nurses are also confronted with the supply shortage of ventilators and hospital beds for their patients.
All of these factors are making nurses around the country feeling morally distressed, burnt-out, and helpless. Nonetheless, nurses are still showing up and serving with resilience and dedication. Since family members are not allowed to visit, they are the ones who are holding the hands of the dying to make sure no one is really dying alone. They are administering meds, drawing labs, communicating with the healthcare team, and doing everything in their power to provide excellent and compassionate care in the face of this crisis so full of unknowns.
We all should be thankful to nurses helping fight this disease. And in the spirit of the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we should remember that in addition to the dedicated care they demonstrate, nurses are innovators and leaders. Florence Nightingale was the pioneer of modern nursing and nursing education and a statistician who revolutionized hospital sanitation. Clara Barton was a Civil War Nurse known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”, and then went on to establish the American Red Cross. Lillian Wald was a nurse and the founder of the Henry Street Settlement, which brought affordable health care to the immigrant poor on Manhattan's Lower East Side and transformed public health.
Contemporary examples of nurses who are improving societal health include Lauren Underwood, a nurse and United States Representative for Illinois and the sponsor of the Lower Insulin Costs Now Act. There is Dr. Rachel Walker, the first nurse to be named an official Invention Ambassador for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Their research focuses primarily on nursing invention to promote dignity, functioning, and a sense of well-being in the context of cancer, chronic illness, and symptom-related disability. And there is Dr. Ernest Grant, the current President of the American Nurses Association, and the 2002 winner of the Nurse of the Year Award for his work treating burn victims from the World Trade Center site.
As we navigate our lives during this pandemic, the designation of 2020 as the International Year of Nurse has become more profound. This crisis exemplifies the commitment of nurses to deliver care in the most challenging of circumstances despite uncertainty and fears. We must celebrate their work at the bedside, and recognize the effort of nurse leaders, innovators, and researchers who are constantly working to transform healthcare and improve the lives of patients. The tireless effort of nurses during the pandemic provides that this acknowledgment and gratitude deserve to extend throughout and beyond this Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
MICHELLE NIGRO is a Nursing senior from Collingswood, NJ studying Nursing. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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