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Kathleen Kaufman: How will we observe Nurses’ Week in 2020?

(Mary Altaffer | AP photo) A nurse gestures from inside the hospital as others hold a demonstration outside Jacobi Medical Center to protest a new policy by the hospital requiring a doctor's note for paid sick leave, in the Bronx borough of New York, April 17, 2020.

Celebrate your friend, your neighbor, your relative who is a nurse.

This is National Nurse’s Week, through May 12, and 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. But 2020 is more likely to be remembered as the Year of the COVID-19 Virus.

So much more reason to celebrate nurses who provide the bulk of COVID direct care. Nurses and many other health care providers are the heroes of 2020, as are the millions of people who supply our health care system and our food supply so we can safely shelter in place.

Where do the nurses we depend on come from in this time of crisis? They come from all over Utah and are educated in many different nursing programs. A brief history note: In the 19th century most nurses learned in an apprenticeship-type manner. In the early 20th century most nurses were “trained” in hospitals who literally needed the nurses to staff their facilities.

In the mid-20th century nursing education moved into the academic setting where it is today. In Utah, we have nine public schools of higher education, three private schools and several proprietary schools. A nurse today must have graduated from an accredited school and must pass an in-depth board exam in order to be licensed as an RN in Utah.

Graduates of Utah’s nursing programs are providing leadership in nursing and healthcare throughout our state. They serve in both formal and informal roles. Formal leaders appear in administration of facilities, in education, on the State Board of Nursing, in advanced care practice, as entrepreneurs and in professional organizations. Informal leaders are more likely to be members of a nursing team, setting standards and examples for younger nurses to follow. These informal leaders have a huge impact on the quality of in-patient care.

Nurses risk their lives to care for all infectious patients, but even more so for COVID-19 patients who may transmit an infection that has no definitive medical treatment. Most recently, 150 health care workers, including many nurses, volunteered to go from Intermountain Healthcare facilities in Utah to care for COVID-19 patients in four of New York City’s Presbyterian Hospitals. New York City has had a very different experience than Salt Lake City with the COVID virus. Google “Intermountain Healthcare Stands with NYC” to find the notes and videos that these workers documented. I read them all and I was most impressed.

Public health nurses also fight COVID-19 by helping to track contacts of infected persons. They are assisted in this in some areas by school nurses who also keep track of the now homebound children’s health.

An aspect that has recently come to light is the tremendous emotional burden these nurses and others carry. They are caring for patients who may or may not recover; but they are the only human contact for those who die without loved ones present due to the isolation precautions in effect. The hand of the nurse may be the last thing a patient feels when no one else is allowed near. The dying patients are a great emotional stress for their caregivers.

As a member of the public, you may not be able to fight the virus in person, but you can take all measures to avoid becoming a COVID19 patient. You can also reach out to nurses you know to express thanks for their dedication, their knowledge, and their strength in their work no matter where that work is. Sit down and write the letter and mail the letter. This gives the recipients something tangible to hold and know they really are appreciated.

Celebrate nurses. We are here! We see! We know! And we care!

Kathleen Kaufman

Kathleen Kaufman, MS, RN, is a retired nurse educator and member of board of directors of the Utah Nurses Association.

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