Be careful what you wish for…

2020 was the year that… “Be careful what you wish for,” once again became imprinted in my brain as truth.

In early 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 2020 would be the “International Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwife.” Among colleagues, there was lots of excitement about this. What would we do to recognize and celebrate this recognition? I heard many ideas—editorials, articles, museum displays, seminars, webinars—maybe we’d even get a stamp! The last time we had a commemorative nurse stamp in the US was 1961, almost 60 years ago. Seems like we were overdue for one.

And then, two months into our memorable year, COVID-19 hit. The world started locking down before the US, but for me, my unforgettable day was March 13 (a Friday, of course) when a symptomatic friend tested positive for the virus. Suddenly, everything changed. We all went into lockdown and remote work became the norm. I tried to figure out how to run a free clinic by phone and email (believe me, it’s not easy). I experienced two weeks of panic, followed by three months of bewilderment, and then settled in for the long haul, which is still ongoing.

Meanwhile, nurses were everywhere. The evening news was flooded with images of nurses in ICUs, EDs, nursing homes, and more. There were interviews with nurses crying, their faces bruised from their PPE googles, mourning their dying and dead patients, wondering if they could have done more. They worried about having enough PPE, their families, and their own health. At the same time, we were celebrated with impromptu parades, celebrations, signs on the street: “Heroes Work Here!”. I was offered a 50% discount at the car wash, but I declined. I figured that as a small business, they needed the money more than I needed a modest saving on washing my car.

We even got a TV show, creatively named NURSES with this tantalizing description: “The series follows five young nurses working on the frontlines of St. Mary’s hospital dedicating their lives to helping others, while figuring out how to help themselves.” Will those nurses be nursologists? Time will tell.

On the other side of the coin, the virus was taking its toll in multiple ways. As of the end of October 2020, the WHO presented an analysis that 1500 nurses worldwide had died of COVID-19, although they admitted that this figure was probably grossly underestimated. The White House put together a coronavirus task force in January that included (according to the New York Times) “internationally known AIDS experts; a former drug executive; infectious disease doctors; and the former attorney general of Virginia” but no nurses. President-elect Biden also put together a task force that seemed more diverse but once again, nurses are conspicuously absent from the membership. At a meeting of nurses in the Oval Office to commemorate National Nurses Day in May, Sophia Thomas, President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners was rebuked by Donald Trump when she stated that there was sporadic access to PPE throughout the US. “Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of people,” Trump said. “Because I’ve heard the opposite. I have heard that they are loaded up with PPE now.” Thomas was bullied into politely agreeing and backing down from her original statement. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen, and it makes me angry every time.

Where is the correct middle ground? Do we want to be “angels,” “heroes,” and members of the “most trusted profession” (according to Gallup, 15 years and running)? Or do we want to be nurses at the table, nurses setting policy, nurses seen as leaders, decision makers, and agents of transformation through research, practice, and education? In other words, nursologists? 2020, our “year” gave us lots of the former, not so much of the latter. And thus I say, “Be careful what you wish for.” I worry that our year of recognition will ultimately reinforce stereotypes and not result in meaningful change. To those in our ranks who have sacrificed their lives, and to others who are dealing with ongoing health issues from COVID-19, both direct and indirect, I hope that is not the case. Maybe with the spotlight off, we can get back to business and work to make incremental, but lasting change, which seems to be what nurses do best. That is my wish for 2021—but I’ll be honest—I would still like a stamp!

9 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for…

  1. If there were a “doctors” stamp people would say, “Well, duh,” because everybody knows that physicians rule healthcare and know everything which is why we have doctors’ orders {sarcasm}. Let us not wish for another sweet little student-nursey stamp until the thought of nurses unequivocally provokes the same attitude of respect for our power. And to deserve that, we must remember that nobody gives you power, you have to seize power.
    Correction: there is a first nurse on the Biden COVID team. There will be more. She has a long career as a psych nurse and union powerhouse. For those who reflexively say there must be a bedside nurse, I say that given the incredible psych effects on both patients and staff and the pervasive reports of staff abuse (short staffing, inadequate supplies chief among them), her expertise may be spot-on to advise on both logistics and team process.

    • Thanks, Wendie. You are correct–there is a nurse on the Biden COVID team *now*, but when the team was first assembled in early November there were “12 people on it – top scientists, researchers and medical professionals – but no nurses.” At least they realized their mistake! The nurse member is Jane Hopkins, “a Sierra Leonean immigrant, who has worked for more than 20 years as a bedside nurse and has a long history in union work, a choice that appears to reflect Biden’s emphasis on appealing to labor groups. She’s also received the Black Lives Matter Award from the SEIU Washington State AFRAM Caucus.” I am delighted with this addition.

  2. Great article! The 1961 stamp was made into a lapel pin which I have and have worn. Another. stamp would be nice but I want the leadership of the nursing organization’s to contact Biden and Harris with a person recommendation for the task Force if they have not done so. I plan to post a call for a nurse to be added to the taskforce on Facebook. Martha Raile Alligood RN, PhD, ANEF

    • Hi Martha–Thanks for your comment. Please see above–a nurse member has been added to the task force. This is good news and Jane Hopkins sounds like an excellent choice to be a nurse representative.

      • Thank you, I will follow up on my fb post to be sure. And yes, a stamp would be nice. Martha

    • Martha, there has been an ongoing thread somewhere (don’t remember how I got in on the thread) for several weeks. I think we have several involved now!

  3. Leslie, Thank you very much for your very thougtht-provoking blog. I regard all nurses as nursologists, so for me, the issue is whether the nursologists are practicing (even if implicitly although explicitly is best) or doing whatever (administering, teaching, researching) within the context of nursology discipline-specific knowledge, much of which is included on Onward! Jacqui Fawcett

  4. Leslie,
    Nicely stated. It is interesting that so many experts have gathered to discuss the pandemic but few nurses are presented to the public as being involved in the real conversations. I also saw the way Sophia Thomas, President of the AANP was disrespected and dismissed as she tried to bring to light the issue with PPE. Yes, it was disrespectful but one must consider the nescience of the situation at hand. However, the media a more than shown that the situation with PPE is and remains dire. Additionally, one must consider the biases regarding the role of nurses and nurse scientist. We (nurses) are keenly aware of our ability to conduct and design research studies, and disseminate research findings in professional publications and conferences in local, regional, national and global arenas. However, it would appear that majority of our colleagues who are doctoral prepared are physicians. The nursing profession continues to have lower percentages of PhD or DNP prepared individuals although the numbers are slowly rising. On its face, I believe, it seems we lack the numbers to be taken seriously when considering a place at a table built for and controlled by the physicians. I believe we must do a better job of emphasizing the nurse scientist’s role in addressing global health initiatives during this and other health crisis.

    Yes, a stamp would be nice. However, let it be one that celebrates the accomplishments of the nurse scientists whose research has changed the health and lives of so many. The 2020 Year of the Nurse may spark more interest in the inequities nurses face and possibly encourage more nurses to become nurse scientist who, I believe, can and will rise to the occasion and present meaningful research findings related to this pandemic.

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