As the healthcare workers with the most frequent contact with patients, nurses have experienced the most changes in their job due to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation has led to a call for empowering nurses, incorporating telehealth into everyday practice, and ensuring equity in the delivery of healthcare.
An article in Johns Hopkins Magazine reported that the pandemic has led to “a transformational time for the field of nursing. While the pandemic has rearranged nearly every aspect of health care, the impacts on nursing may be the most profound—given that nurses represent 80% of the industry’s workforce, and demand for their skills is at a peak.”
What COVID-19 Taught Us About Important Nursing Skills
One of the most important lessons the pandemic taught is the value of healthcare facilities and organizations investing in nursing. The spread of the deadly virus cast a bright light on the vital importance of nurses to global health, and also how the effectiveness of healthcare correlates with the nursing profession.
As with any medical emergency, nurses have worked at the forefront of the pandemic, significantly impacting patient health and outcomes. Their clinical skills have been key to successful patient treatment, including gathering medical histories, taking vital signs, and performing tests. They play an essential role in educating patients on maintaining good health once they leave the hospital, doctor’s office, or testing center.
But the pandemic called on nurses to do far more. The need for those important nursing skills will remain even after the pandemic is under better control.
Skills and Duties of Nurses Post-Pandemic
COVID-19 has impacted nurses in a variety of specializations that include:
- Registered nurses
- Public health nurses
- Informatics nurses
- Geriatric nurses
- Emergency room nurses
Because COVID-19 patients swamped hospitals, many nurses worked longer shifts. Others had to work in areas outside their usual area of expertise, filling in for emergency room nurses, for example. The ability to shift work hours and responsibilities highlights perhaps the most important skills nurses demonstrated during the pandemic: flexibility.
That need for flexibility will not diminish going forward and demonstrates one of the many ways the pandemic introduced significant changes in the delivery of healthcare to patients.
Shift to Telehealth
The rapid adoption of telemedicine became critical during the height of the pandemic. Changes in federal law helped in this area, easing restrictions on privacy and billing. For older patients more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the ability to communicate with clinicians via video conference made it possible to continue with their regularly scheduled medical appointments. Healthcare professionals expect telehealth to continue, especially for routine checkups and follow-ups with patients.
The pandemic also exposed the existing inequities in healthcare. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service advocates further support for the nursing profession to ensure that the nursing force is ready to respond to any future outbreaks. They also called for a “particular focus on meeting the needs of vulnerable groups and advocating on their behalf to reduce inequity in access to healthcare, health protection, and cultural sensitivity.”
Empowerment for Nurses
The pandemic also brought to light the restrictions on the care that advanced practice nurses can otherwise provide. For example, many advocates (including Johns Hopkins) want regulations changed to allow more nurse practitioners to be able to perform their duties without the presence of a doctor. This certainly can help during a pandemic, when the lack of doctors in some parts of the country can potentially slow needed medical treatment. This remains an ongoing debate, but some changes are expected.
Houston Baptist University offers several nursing degree programs to help prepare nurses with the skills they need in all situations, including during a pandemic. These programs produce graduates ready to take on key roles in improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes no matter where they work.