Nurses Week 2020: In times of crisis, nurses run toward the unknown — not away

By Mary Ann Osborn, Chief Nursing Executive, UnityPoint Health

Being a nurse for four decades, I knew exactly what would happen when COVID-19 flipped our lives upside down – our health care workers would greet the challenge without hesitation. The word “essential” doesn’t begin to capture the gravity of the role these courageous men and women play in fighting the pandemic and caring for those affected by it.

Mary Ann Osborn

The nurses and health care workers in our hospitals are among the first to care for our most critically ill. With faces behind masks, they still find ways to show our patients how much they matter — a reassuring tone or a heartfelt look.

If you were to ask someone in health care what they enjoy most about their work, connecting with people would be high on the list. And while the necessary physical barriers in place make that difficult, I know the warmth of their spirits are shining through.

COVID-19 leaves little time for relief for people in health care. Work means many hours spent on their feet, maneuvering in and out of patient rooms with layers of protective gear, checking vitals and administering medications, monitoring response to therapies, answering call lights, and simply doing whatever they can to provide comfort and decrease fear. And even when the work is over, it never really feels like it. As they head home, they worry about the health and safety of their loved ones and replay the day in their heads wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Outside of our hospitals, the charge carries on. In our clinics, teams are navigating new telehealth technologies and protective measures to ensure patients keep up with their care. Every effort is made to keep people safe in their homes and avoid the healthcare environment unless essential to their care. Our home care teams are following suit, making every effort to keep COVID-19 out of people’s home. And extra TLC is being offered to our frail elderly, even picking up groceries for patients afraid or unable to leave their homes.

The responsibility our nurses and health care workers feel toward their patients, communities and each other is real. This work is not just a job, it’s a calling. There are moments that break your heart, and others that piece you back together. But no one is going through it alone. Across the organization, our team members have banded together, acknowledging the importance of each other, providing support for those taking on new duties and empowering each other to not just get through this — but to grow from it.

Our nurses and health care workers stand firmly in their purpose. As Chief Nursing Executive, I see that soft strength and compassion on the faces of our leaders and care teams every single day. I am proud, and I am humbled. Relying on their expertise and shared humanity, they’re ready to take on whatever comes their way. Because in times of crisis like this, they’re the ones who run toward the unknown — not away from it.

In the United States, Gallup polls have ranked nursing as the most trusted profession for many years, and I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us why. In the hospitals, clinics and homes, our nurses talk with us, laugh with us and cry with us. When welcoming a new baby, it is our nurses who sit with us and teach us. And when it’s our time to leave this world, it is our nurses who will hold our hand, comfort us and see us through.

Our nurses and health care workers are amazing — they stand with us during this challenging and frightening time. May we honor their service now and always.