COVID-19 and Nursing: 6 Ways the Pandemic Has Made an Impact
By Ashley Brooks on 05/10/2021
The nursing profession has been around for nearly two hundred years—since the days of Florence Nightingale. The field has seen plenty of change since then, from emerging technologies and innovative medical treatments to new standards in patient care. But few things have changed nursing as rapidly as the COVID-19 pandemic.
You probably have a lot of questions about what the pandemic means for the future of nursing. How has COVID-19-era nursing affected the field as a whole? What long-term changes can nurses expect to see as a result of the pandemic? Has any good managed to come from this situation?
Nursing during a pandemic certainly isn’t predictable, but it doesn’t mean you should rule out this potential career field. We spoke with nurses who have firsthand experience with pandemic nursing. They’re sharing the truth about how COVID-19 has changed the field, including some surprising silver linings and what this means for up-and-coming nurses.
6 Ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nursing profession
1. Telehealth visits are making healthcare more convenient
The technology that makes telehealth—or virtual visits—possible has been available for years, but this convenient option had remained out of reach for many patients because insurance companies often wouldn’t cover it. With the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, that restriction has changed.
Home care nurse Jami Carder has adjusted her schedule to visit patients when they have telehealth visits scheduled so she can assist them with technology. “I also spend more time teaching them how to order food, medicine and toiletries online, if they have the technology.”
Though this adds time to her visits, Carder is hopeful that these telehealth visits will continue to be approved by insurance companies even when the COVID-19 pandemic is largely behind us. “While this is not an ideal situation for some patients, it will make life easier for others.”
2. Additional PPE may stick around
By now we’re all familiar with the mild inconvenience of wearing a mask to complete simple errands, but nurses have to endure personal protective equipment (PPE) on an entirely different level. Although some amount of PPE has always been part of nurses’ work attire, the pandemic has taken this requirement far beyond scrubs and gloves.
“Wearing a bunny suit, mask, face shield and gloves is exhausting. It is hard to breathe, you sweat like crazy, and it gets really hot,” says Alaina Ross, PACU nurse and test prep expert contributor at Test Prep Insight. These precautions are designed to keep healthcare workers safe, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an uncomfortable burden during long shifts.
While it’s hard to know what the future has in store, this level of PPE may be part of the standard uniform for nurses even as the worst of the pandemic winds down. “I don't see the increased protections and regulations going away anytime soon,” Ross says. “Hospitals are ultra conservative when it comes to taking precautions.”
3. Some healthcare professionals are being paid a premium
If there could possibly be a silver lining to being a nurse during a global pandemic, the possibility for increased earning potential would be it. One study from the University of Chicago found that intensive care unit (ICU) compensation had temporarily increased by an estimated 50 percent while emergency room (ER) compensation had temporarily increased by an estimated 27 percent during the height of the pandemic.1
While we can’t say for certain this occurred across the board for nurses, anecdotal evidence supports this. Ross has worked overtime, taken extra shifts and answered overnight calls, adding up to time-and-a-half and sometimes even double-time pay. “It's been great for my bank account from that perspective.”
Travel nurses have also seen a boost. These registered nurses (RNs) were in higher demand than ever before as “waves” of COVID-19 hit different areas of the country at different times. At the beginning of the pandemic, some travel nurses saw their weekly salary nearly double.2
While massive jumps in compensation aren’t likely to be a permanent shift in nursing, this pandemic has put a spotlight on the premium providers may be willing to pay qualified travel nurses during times of intense demand or need.
4. Nursing shortages have caused strain
As of November 2020, more than 1,000 U.S. hospitals were critically short-staffed.3 This shortage is caused not only by the high demand for ICU care but also because many nurses are leaving the field for a variety of reasons, including stress, lack of child care and becoming infected with COVID-19 themselves.
“A lot of older nurses have either retired or taken extended leaves of absence to avoid coming in contact with COVID patients,” Ross says. “I do not blame them one bit, but it has left behind a staffing gap that is yet to be filled.”
It’s unclear how long lasting these shortages will be, but there is a small bright side: nurses who have returned to the profession after taking a break or switching to more administrative roles. “Some nurses who had left bedside nursing are feeling the pull to come back,” says Sandra Crawley, RN and consultant for MomLovesBest®.
5. Emotional and mental health have been strained
Closely related to nurse shortages is the toll that working through a pandemic has taken on healthcare workers’ emotional and mental health. “The staff-to-patient ratio keeps growing, and nurses are asked to take on a larger workload,” Crawley says.
Add this increased patient load to the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, and it’s no surprise that nurses are showing the strain. A COVID-19 mental health survey conducted in the early months of the pandemic by the American Nurses Foundation found that around 50 percent of nurses surveyed experienced feeling overwhelmed, anxious and/or irritable.4
Unfortunately, only 32 percent of nurses felt that their employers valued their mental health.4 It’s clear that greater mental health assessments and support are needed for healthcare workers, but there’s no guarantee that this type of help is on the way. Meanwhile, healthcare workers’ deteriorating mental health could have effects that outlast the pandemic itself. Again, time will tell as the US transitions back to something closer to “normal,” but perhaps this incredibly challenging event will spur change for the better.
6. Nurses are more empowered to advocate for change
One undeniable positive to come from the pandemic: Nurses are taking charge of both their own careers and the field at large. “This pandemic has shown us that our career can be a whole lot broader than once thought of before. It is no longer just bedside nursing,” Crawley says. COVID-19 has been the impetus for nurses to explore related careers in areas like telehealth, home care nursing and medical research.
It’s also proven to be the event many nurses needed to become stronger advocates for change in the healthcare field. “Workplace safety has become a matter of national news, and the need for transformation has been brought to the forefront,” Crawley says.
Nurses across the nation are demanding increased pay, better mental health policies and stronger protection from their employers. “Policies are being scrutinized and altered to protect us in the long term,” Crawley says. “It is in times like these that nurses truly shine.”
Does the future of nursing include you?
There’s no way to know for sure how the ripple effects of nursing during a pandemic will change the field long term, but you can rest assured knowing the nursing profession—like many others—has felt an impact.
You can’t control what happens to the nursing profession going forward, but you can decide if you’re going to have a future in this healthcare career. The world clearly needs compassionate caregivers to depend on—so are you up for answering that call? Check out our article “What Makes a Good Nurse? Experts Reveal What It Takes” to learn more about the characteristics needed for success.
1Joshua Gottlieb and Avi Zenilman, “When Nurses Travel: Labor Supply Elasticity During COVID-19 Surges” Becker Friedman Institute - University of Chicago, Nov. 19, 2020 [accessed April, 2021] https://bfi.uchicago.edu/working-paper/2020166/
2 Fred Pennic, “Travel Nurse Pay Nearly Doubles Nationwide from Coronavirus Outbreak.” HIT Consultant, March 27, 2020 [accessed April, 2021]https://hitconsultant.net/2020/03/27/coronavirus-outbreak-doubles-travel-nurse-pay-nationwide/
3Sean McMinn and Selena Simmons-Duffin, “1,000 U.S. Hospitals Are ‘Critically’ Short on Staff—And More Expect to Be Soon.” National Public Radio, Nov. 20, 2020 [accessed April, 2021] www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/11/20/937152062/1-000-u-s-hospitals-are-short-on-staff-and-more-expect-to-be-soonbr/>4American Nurses Foundation, “Pulse on the Nation’s Nurses COVID-19 Survey Series: Mental Health and Wellness” [accessed April, 2021] https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/work-environment/health-safety/disaster-preparedness/coronavirus/what-you-need-to-know/mental-health-and-wellbeing-survey/
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