Nursing in 2020 and 2021
In the closing days of 2021, on the heels of the year of infamy, 2020, those front-line nurses working in the trenches of patient care are a good point of reference in evaluating nursing’s readiness to face challenges to the profession in 2022. These have truly been the darkest of times for nursing and nursing students. Yet, I have a reason for hope for my beloved profession of nursing going forward. One of my streams of hope for the profession lies in nursing students who graduated in the midst of the pandemic and are now part of the mighty army of “trench nurses.” Below is an excerpt from Starnes’ The Battle of the Somme, a nurse’s war diary from the battlefield in 1916, which explains the camaraderie, hope, and resilience these nurses mastered:
The place resembled a living hell. Henceforth, there seemed to be no distinction between night duty and day duty. Everyone just worked to the point of exhaustion….There was no time to express sympathy or mourn the dead, only to carry on tending the wounded by the sheer strength of the will. Without exception, every nurse worked until the point of collapse, skipping meals and rest periods…There was no typical day, week or month, only a treadmill of relentless toil as they endeavored to save lives and relieve suffering (para. 2 & 3).
COVID-19 Similarities to Trench Nursing
When I read this account of WWI nursing, I am aware of similar comments from my current students and fellow nurses, in recounting hospital nursing experiences of 2020 and 2021. Michaels’ Military Nurses in WWI cites the lack of supplies and necessary equipment as a similarity between WWI trench nurses and modern-day nurses who endured the horrors of Covid-19. Incapacity to render effective nursing care due to lack of needed supplies and equipment hits nurses especially hard in this day, as nurses have become accustomed to those being made available by a fully functioning health care system.
The lack of supplies and equipment included isolation masks, gowns, and gloves during the worst of the pandemic. Nurses were not only in danger of contracting the disease, but they also put their loved ones at risk of transmitting infectious agents. Because of this, many nurses isolated themselves from their families. In so doing, these modern-day nurses also experienced the sacrifice of leaving families to care for their sick and dying patients, day after day, week after week, as the pandemic wore on.
History’s Impact on the Nursing Profession
We can look back now on the impact of WWI on nurses and the nursing profession, over 100 years later. What does history reveal about that impact?
First, nurses developed a camaraderie, as survival mode kicked in. Previous barriers to working together faded as nurses pulled together for help and emotional support amid the horrors of war and all that could bring – and did.
Second, nurses realized they were sacrificing for a worthy cause, caring for soldiers who were wounded and/or dying while protecting their mutual countries, and for innocent civilians injured in the war around them. A sense of “we are in the trenches together” fighting for a greater cause identity developed and provided hope.
Third, nurses rose to the occasion and accomplished what they thought they could not do. Some left the profession, many did not. Todd (2018) points out the positive impact on the cause for women’s rights as a result of the heroic accomplishments of WWI Nurses. Considering that until fairly recently, nursing has been viewed as a largely female profession, this outcome is a positive for some aspects of nursing.
Future of Nursing
Certainly, continuing in battlefield working conditions is undesirable – and unsustainable -- for the nursing profession going forward, regardless of the positive impact on the future of nursing. So --- why am I hopeful for the future of nursing based on what my most recently graduated students have said about their first year of practice as part of the pandemic nursing workforce? This is why camaraderie, hope, and resilience were born out of trench nursing.
In the past, we were known for eating our own, passing on to the newest nurses the old tried and true tradition of welcoming new nurses into the profession by sink or swim. The mantra has been, show us what you’re worth. That’s not working now. New nurses are welcome now in most settings, most situations. Nursing staff shortages are serious. Beating each other up for mistakes, holding power trips, and playing mind games has lessened as we all fight for survival. Could it be the external threat has finally reached the fevered pitch of creating ripe conditions for an organizational culture change in nursing? It could happen.
Online Nursing Program
Our new nurses seem to be paving the way. Let’s observe and support these newbies. They are our shining stars for the future of nursing. If we nurture their light the cumulative brightness could overcome years of negatives and offset the unwanted outcomes of Trench Nursing in 2020 and 2021. I, for one, have great hope. If you are interested in becoming a nurse educator, take a closer look at our Nursing programs. Ottawa University’s Bachelors in Nursing (RN to BSN) and Masters in Nursing (MSN) programs can help you learn and share the pathway to resilience during challenging times.
Our highly esteemed MSN offers two concentrations:
Online RN-MSN Bridge Program
OU’s accelerated online MSN is designed for RNs who have graduated from an accredited program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A current, unrestricted RN license obtained in the U.S. is required. Our fully online RN-to-MSN Bridge program can help students fulfill career goals and increase their overall earning potential. This unique program was designed for busy professionals who need a flexible schedule with the added option of accelerating their learning.
- Accelerated 8-week terms
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- Network and collaborate online with a diverse group of peers