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Dr. Bonnie Clipper, DNP, MA, MBA, RN, CENP, FACHE
Today, our health care professionals are on the front lines of a new kind of “war”. This isn’t a war of guns, bombs or bullets, but rather one of a silent killer- a highly transmittable and potentially lethal virus. The Coronavirus is an equal opportunity opportunist. It matters not your race, gender, class, religion or status, but only if you would make a good host. This is a war, where those on the front lines didn’t sign up or enlist, by default they were all drafted. While well trained, our millions of health care professionals, as well as housekeeping, food service and support staff, are in fact on the front lines and have not had the opportunity to drill, synchronize and perfect their efforts -like a professional military.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) there are over 4 million nurses, 1 million physicians, 800,000 pharmacists, approximately 130,000 respiratory therapists along with hundreds of thousands of therapists and others who are on our front lines today. These are our new “troops”, those who we must support in order to defend our communities. As the country is closing schools, reducing travel, canceling major league sports and regional events and contemplating further closures to reduce transmissibility of the virus, our health care professionals and support staff are showing up to work. They didn’t ask to be put into these potentially high-risk roles like a Special Ops or Seal Team soldier, yet there they are. I am not demeaning the importance of military roles, just trying to show that the comparison at this time is similar.
Consider how you can support our new “troops”. Our health care professionals have older parents, children and friends, and many of them are concerned about what they are bringing home to their families. Additionally, they worry for themselves and their colleagues, partially about getting COVID but also, as a close ED nurse family member said to me yesterday “if I get sick, I can’t work and help in the ED and they are already getting swamped”. This is what health care professionals do. Yes, they worry about themselves, but really, they are concerned about others. This is what makes them such unique and special people. It is no surprise that for 18 years nurses have been the most trusted profession. They, along with their interdisciplinary colleagues work tirelessly and continue to show up no matter the personal expense.
Today, I am reflecting on what I can impact and focusing on the task at hand which is supporting those on the front line of this new “war”. I have had many people reach out to me to ask how they too can help. Here are some ideas; prepare and drop off meals, offer to watch pets or walk a dog, consider watching their kids or having a sleepover for a night or two to help relieve some of the stress and obligation that our caregivers and providers feel on a daily basis, pick up groceries, etc. In digging back into how our country has responded to crises in previous decades, I stumbled upon the significance of the Yellow Ribbon during wartime. While not intended to take anything away from the significance of this gesture to honor our courageous military, I think it applies in this recent “war” on the Coronavirus as well.
As Winston Churchill said, “never waste a good crisis” (realbusiness, 2020). Let use the COVID crisis as an opportunity to learn and improve, when we get to the point of serious debriefing on the outcomes and the toll that this crisis has taken on our country. We will have some serious questions to face. How do we learn from this and be prepared for the next pandemic? We will also need to face endemic burnout issues head-on to ensure that we can truly recruit and retain the best and the brightest in our health professions. This means that ongoing pay, resource, and staffing needs to change to be sure that we have an adequate supply of nurses, physicians and respiratory therapists going forward. Our healthcare disciplines all face looming shortages only projected to increase in the coming years. The documentation burden needs to be addressed once and for all, how many years of redundant documentation need to continue to show what a problem it is. How can we ensure that we aren’t again caught flat-footed on medical equipment and PPE inventory? And most importantly, how we can fund public health, community health, and school nurses to an effective and acceptable level again.
Hunker down and support our health care professionals in any way that you can. As for me, I am resorting to the age-old tradition of showing support for the new “troops”, and I have started tying yellow ribbons to trees in my community as a sign of my support for our health care professionals and support staff that are on the front line. Please join me by tying or wearing a yellow ribbon to support our front line heroes.
Be smart. Be kind. Be safe.
Realbusiness. (2020). Accessed on March 15, 2020. Accessed at https://realbusiness.co.uk.com/as-said-by-winston-chirchill-never-waste-a-good-crisis/.
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