“The pandemic has changed almost every aspect of nursing.”
When the World Health Organization declared 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the goal was to highlight their work and advocate for more investments towards the nursing field. It also coincided with the celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. Then the pandemic hit.
The WHO’s declaration took on a whole new meaning, and nurses continue to work on the COVID-19 frontlines in 2021. The nursing shortage has affected how patient care is delivered for years, and now COVID-19 has exacerbated nurses and health care needs. So where does the nursing field go from here?
We asked our Aspen University School of Nursing & Health Sciences experts and leaders to share their 2021 nursing outlook. What have they’ve learned from last year? Where do they see nursing headed? What is their advice for nurses and aspiring nurses?
How is nursing different from a year ago?
Dr. Nina Beaman (Dean of Nursing): Although nurses have always served their communities in diverse roles, during 2020 many nurses transferred their excellent skills to new venues, new challenges, and new treatments. Nurses proved [to the public] that they could critically think, work well with teams, adapt and innovate, and empathize with patients and their families.
Dr. Anne McNamara (Chief Nursing Officer): In many ways, “nursing” has not changed, but the spotlight has been put on the work of nurses, which not only includes highly technical skills but compassion and care for the entire person. Many images have shown how nurses have been the only ones to assist a patient with COVID-19 to a peaceful death.
Dr. Jennifer Overturf (Program Director, BSN Pre-Licensure – Phoenix-Elwood): Never before have nurses faced so much uncertainty about their physical safety and health while providing patient care. It used to be the occasional patient who had a disease that could spread but now every patient encounter is fraught with risk. Acute care nurses are also working longer, harder hours as staffing is stretched and patient volumes increase beyond maximum capacity. Many nurses are working in newly-configured teams as hospitals implement new and innovative staffing models or resurrect older team nursing models to address the demand.
What are some important trends for nursing today?
Dr. Beaman: I think public health was not seen much in the media before this pandemic. Undoubtedly, we’ve seen the importance of prevention, the need for universal access to healthcare (especially vulnerable populations), and how critical healthcare is for essential services.
Dr. Overturf: While many horrible events took place in 2020, I believe there are silver linings to be seen as well. We’re reforming old, change-resistant models. For example, whether related to education or employment, virtual work has gained substantial buy-in as it has become necessary to function. Visits with healthcare providers have also become virtual, which may increase healthcare accessibility for some as we move into the future.
What do you hope will change now that people are receiving COVID-19 vaccinations?
Dr. Zachary Nethers (Program Director, BSN Pre-Licensure – Tampa): As more and more nurses become vaccinated, healthcare policy could change, allowing those vaccinated to remove their masks eventually.
Dr. Randall Mangrum (Program Director, Graduate Nursing Programs): My prayers are that we will begin seeing significant relief for our front-line health care professionals very quickly. As a result of this crisis, I believe there will be a renewed interest and focus on public health nursing.
Dr. Rhonda Winegar (Program Director, BSN Pre-Licensure – Austin): Nurses have always been educators and trusted sources for information. We will need to continue to help educate the public about the vaccine’s safety and the public’s need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
What skills will nurses need to succeed in 2021?
Dr. Mangrum: Effective communication by way of technology.
Dr. Winegar: Nurses need to learn to adapt and respond to the ever-changing healthcare field. If you can’t adapt to change, you will not be successful.
Dr. Nethers: I believe that some nurses lack holistic self-care, which is essential to success in 2021.
Dr. Overturf: Nurses should remain flexible and open-minded to new and innovative ways for healthcare and nursing education delivery.
How is Aspen’s curriculum adapting to changes in nursing and addressing skills gaps?
Dr. Beaman: We have always included a public health emphasis in all of our programs, but we now all see the critical need for nurses to perform their skills both inside acute care facilities and outside them. Our curriculum will continue to strive to expose all students to the vital role of prevention, issues in public/community/global health, and innovations needed to improve healthcare for all.
Dr. Overturf: In some ways, the Nursing Program was well-positioned to adapt to the pandemic, as much of the learning already takes place online. In-person clinical placements have been drastically limited, and the nursing program moved quickly to transform traditional in-person clinical rotations and simulations into virtual ones. While there is no substitute for human contact for nursing students, the simulated experiences the students participate in are excellent. In some ways, the students benefit from a more predictable and objective-driven clinical experience.
What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from 2020?
Dr. Beaman: We all need to be kind to each other. For in humanity, we find ourselves.
Dr. Mangrum: Always be flexible and accept that change is the only constant.
Dr. Winegar: I have learned that nurses are the heroes we have always thought they were. I am so proud to be part of the nursing profession.
Dr. Nethers: We are all vulnerable—caring for ourselves holistically is essential.
Dr. McNamara: Nurses are resilient and are clear on their mission. As educators, we never lost sight of our purpose.
Dr. Overturf: While a lot of horrible events took place in 2020, I believe there are silver linings to be seen as well. We’re reforming old, change-resistant models. For example, whether related to education or employment, virtual work has gained substantial buy-in as it has become necessary to function. Visits with healthcare providers have also become virtual, which may increase healthcare accessibility for some as we move into the future.
Our experts’ 2021 nursing outlook is optimistic and the opportunity for positive change. As the pandemic continues, so will the need for nurses to support one another. Whether a veteran or aspiring nurse, how will you participate in moving the nursing industry forward this year?