Strategies for Nurses: Managing Responsibilities in a Public Health Crisis
Whether you are fresh out of nursing school or an experienced nurse manager, nurses are crucial leaders in the healthcare of others. And during a global public health crisis, the skills of a nurse have never been more valuable.
As frontline healthcare professionals, nurses are working around the clock to manage the surge of patients infected with COVID-19. Longer shifts, unfamiliar working conditions, extra duties, and heightened stress have only added to an already full load for many nurses—both at work and at home. Exhausted nurses are left wondering: How do I manage it all?
If you’re a nurse struggling to balance the flood of responsibilities brought on by the current public health crisis, here are some strategies that might help you navigate this challenging time in your nursing career.
Teamwork is everything during times of crisis. Some healthcare facilities are using a team-based nursing approach in the management of patient care during the pandemic. Under the typical primary care model, one registered nurse (RN) may care for a small group of patients. But with the team nursing model, managers instead assign a group of patients to a team of nurses who work collaboratively.
During the COVID-19 crisis, experienced critical care RNs or acute care nurse practitioners can make great leaders of nursing teams. The leader oversees the complex aspects of patient care and gives specific jobs to their team of support nurses. These nurses, who may be from a different unit and have less critical-care expertise, can take care of the patients’ basic nursing needs, such as monitoring vitals and doing other non-critical-care tasks.
In order for the team model to work, there must be good communication, delegation, and possibly some mentoring of less experienced nurses. If you’re managing a nursing team, it’s important to know the skills of each nurse and how their nursing expertise and education match up with the needs of patients. Team models are most effective when you leverage the particular skills of each nurse.
The American Nurses Association offers this guidance to nurses concerning the management of other healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 crisis: “Registered nurses may be asked to delegate care to others, such as students, staff displaced from another institution, or volunteers. This will require a rapid assessment of the skills of the others available to assist in patient care. Nurses must continue to emphasize patient safety and appropriate delegation.”1
Ask for What You Need
Nurses need certain tools, personal protective equipment (PPE), information, and support to care for patients during a public health crisis. Don’t be afraid to ask your nurse manager or other hospital leadership for what you need to do your job safely and well.
“Professional nurses have a duty to care during crises like pandemics. Their employers and supervisors have a corresponding duty to reduce risks to nurses' safety, plan for competing priorities like childcare, and address moral distress and other injuries to personal and professional integrity such crisis events can cause,” the American Nurses Association states.1
Your ability to handle increased demands at work during a public health crisis may also require extra support from your friends and family. Ask loved ones to step in to help with childcare, meals, grocery shopping, and any other personal responsibilities. Lightening the load at home can help you lower stress levels and better manage your nursing responsibilities.
Take Care of You
A career in nursing requires a commitment to caring for others. But you must care for yourself, too. Studies have shown that frontline healthcare providers treating patients with COVID-19 have greater risks of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress.2 Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, nurses struggled with the management of stress and fatigue. In fact, according to a 2019 national nursing engagement study,3 over 15% of nurses reported feelings of career burnout, and those who worked in emergency and critical care were at an even higher risk.
Nurses must adopt self-care management strategies to cope with the added stress and anxiety that come with balancing responsibilities during a public health crisis. Here are some self-care tips:4
- Schedule it in: Longer shifts may mean less free time, but try to schedule a moment or two every day to focus on doing something good for yourself.
- Take up a hobby: Again, free time may be limited during a public health crisis. But if you find some spare minutes, consider filling them with something that brings you joy, like painting, gardening, dancing, or playing music.
- Unplug: You may be tempted to catch up on the latest news surrounding the crisis, but it’s a good idea to turn off the electronic devices and give your mind a break.
- Do yoga or meditate: These ancient practices can boost your mind, mood, and energy.
- Eat well: Good nutrition can help keep you fueled even in the most stressful and busy of times.
- Get moving: Take a nice walk with your dog, do an at-home workout, or join a virtual exercise class.
- Prioritize sleep: A good long stretch of rest is essential for avoiding fatigue and supporting your well-being.
As part of its Well-Being Initiative,5 the American Nurses Association has also compiled a suite of free tools and resources specifically designed to support nurses’ mental health and well-being during this time in their careers. The online self-care kit includes opportunities to connect with other healthcare workers over calls and video, webinars, access to mental health resources, and other self-care tools.
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