UK HealthCare

Op-Ed: Nursing in the time of COVID-19

headshots of Janie Heath and Gwen Moreland
Janie Heath (left) is the dean of the College of Nursing. Gwen Moreland is the chief nurse executive for UK HealthCare.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 1, 2020) – When the World Health Organization and the American Nurses Association declared 2020 as “The Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” no one imagined it would look like this.  The declaration is so timely, as the need for nurses in the COVID-19 pandemic is apparent now more than ever.    

Just like the “mother of modern nursing” Florence Nightingale did in the Crimean war, nurses today are sacrificing to put others above themselves.

Nurses have always stepped up in times of need. From 9/11 to Ebola to Hurricane Sandy— nurses have met each challenge with courage and compassion.

The COVID-19 crisis is no different. 

Their efforts are 24/7. We all know nurses are serving on the front lines of care delivery, but they are also conducting virtual research experiences, providing innovative telehealth alternatives and converting educational environments for online learning.

Academic nurse leaders are rising to the occasion by supporting students’ success. Faculty are finding creative solutions to help students complete their required clinical hours despite many healthcare facilities limiting or closing off student access. In Kentucky alone, we expect 3,000 nursing students to graduate in 2020.

Nursing organizations and regulatory bodies are stepping up too. Every day, they advocate for nurses’ safety and protection as they face supply chain shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), infectious patient surges and new evidence on COVID-19 treatment and containment.

On top of everything they do, let’s also remember that nurses are only human.

They are feeling the stress of their circumstances, both on the job and at home.  They are providing comfort and care to patients as well as their own families and friends—some of whom are facing hardships due to lack of childcare, job loss or sickness. 

How can you help? Say thank you.  When you see a nurse or any health care worker, virtually or in person, let them know they are appreciated for their strength, service and leadership to keep our community healthy.

Take care of yourself.  Crisis management research has repeatedly demonstrated that adversity does not have to hold us back from reaching our greatest potential.  The good always comes out of our challenges when we work together and stay connected.  Here are a few strategies that we are finding helpful:

1) Stay focused on what we can control. Stopping COVID-19 single-handedly is out of our hands but we can control how we react to the challenges by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for hand-washing, social distancing and disinfecting surfaces. 

2) Take time to breathe and reflect. Thinking about how our new world with COVID-19 brings opportunities for creative adjustments and family connections by returning to simpler times in our lives with walking outdoors, eating dinners together and playing board games.

3) Practice gratitude. Finding something positive every day is vital to health and wellness.  Being grateful for simple things like beautiful days of sunshine or spending more time with our pets helps us to stay mentally strong.

4) Take care of ourselves. Prioritizing “me time” in the middle of a crisis is challenging but critical if we are going to come healthy on the other side. We must get adequate sleep, exercise and eat healthy so we can take better care of others and our communities.                    

Our nurses — along with all of our health care professionals and service industry workers — are keeping our state and nation afloat right now. We ask you to join our efforts to support one another during these unprecedented times. We are all better together.  #TogetherKY #KYNursingStrong​

Janie Heath is the dean of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing and Warwick Professor of Nursing, and Gwen Moreland is the chief nurse executive for UK HealthCare.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.