The AHA’s American Organization of Nursing Leadership affiliate, the American Nurses Association, and Johnson & Johnson released a report examining nurse-led innovations that improved patient care and outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic and opportunities to continue that progress going forward.
For example, nurses leveraged telehealth and virtual health to bring care to patients in need, especially those displaced from traditional care delivery pathways by COVID-19. They also spearheaded pilots that allowed health systems to adapt to meet the quickly evolving needs of patients.
The report includes recommendations:
• Prioritize nurses’ mental health and well-being Nurses’ mental health is a central area of concern, regarding both the individual nurse and the well-being of the profession. The pandemic brought enormous strain—mental, physical and emotional—to the nursing workforce, across levels and care types, and will likely affect it for some time. Nurses have experienced feelings of loss of purpose as well as doubt about their own value, judgment, and compassion; they have also experienced high levels of burnout. Supporting nurses’ mental health more openly and comprehensively will not only help them heal from the trauma of the pandemic and reconnect with their purpose, but ultimately it will support patient care, the organization and the future of the nursing workforce, by reducing the higher risk of attrition that comes with protracted stress, burnout and moral distress.
• Provide additional educational pathways and cross-training opportunities to encourage entry into the nursing profession and a greater diversity of career paths once in it, attention should be devoted to developing more flexible educational opportunities. While real-world evidence shows improved outcomes when nurses have advanced degrees, nursing professionals with other types of education are key to the increasingly complex spectrum of care, particularly in non-traditional settings, including long-term and virtual care. Enhancing educational choices and pathways may involve building competencies in high school, lowering costs and other barriers to nursing education, broadening clinical site exposure and facilitating earlier entry into practice. Opportunities for cross-training are also important—across departments, organizations and care settings—and would build confidence, skills and expertise in new technologies, as well as lay down the framework for professional redeployment when change is desired or in times of crisis. Interdisciplinary education, both in school and professionally, also paves the way for nurse leadership.
• Implement more flexible career options for nursing. Broadening nurses’ professional options is key for several reasons: to reduce attrition, increase the capacity for redeployment and expand the opportunity for nurse leadership and innovation. Designing more flexible career pathways, both inside and outside traditional nursing roles, opens the way to lateral and vertical movement, which can keep nurses in nursing, even if not in traditional bedside roles. A new narrative should underscore the reality that changing jobs does not mean leaving the profession—and that while additional academic preparation should always be an option, it should not be a requirement for change. Greater flexibility also includes the idea that every nurse should have the skillset to do more than one job and redeploy if needed or desired, a capacity that begins in education and continues as professional development. Interdisciplinary training at the professional level will support nurse well-being, leadership, interdisciplinary teamwork, organizational efficiency and patient care.
• Leverage nurses’ wide range of skills and capacity as change agents. During the pandemic, nurses were seen as the “doers,” taking care of critically ill patients while developing new care models, clinical techniques, products and technologies. Nurses must be aware of their own pivotal roles in patient care and their capacity to contribute unique insight to organizational planning and execution. Additionally, organizations and the larger health systems should be aware of nurses’ broad skillsets and their ability to innovate and scale practical solutions. Nurses’ voices should be included in every level of decision-making. Care must be taken to build greater awareness, across disciplines, of the many roles of nursing and the importance of nurse voices in both patient care-related and organizational decisions.