The backbone of healthcare: 3 CNOs on what COVID-19 has taught us about nursing

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the crucial role nurses play in the U.S. healthcare system, bringing a spirit of strength, ingenuity and courage to their work. 

In recognition of National Nurses Week, which ends May 12, Becker's asked nurse executives to share what the pandemic has taught us about nursing and what lasting effects it may have on the profession. Their responses are below.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Wilhelmina Manzano, RN, senior vice president, chief nursing executive and chief quality officer at NewYork-Presbyterian (New York City): "The truth about the value of nurses was further affirmed. We know that nurses are the backbone of American healthcare, and often its heart and soul. In these unprecedented times, nurses answered the call of duty with great bravery even at personal cost, putting themselves at risk to alleviate suffering and save lives. Three words: Strength. Dedication. Compassion. We have seen how nurses can contribute in so many critical ways, adapt to changing and complex clinical situations, and take the lead in the fight against COVID-19.

"The COVID-19 pandemic will impact nursing as a profession in the future. It has shown us that we need to build our intensive care unit capacity, which of course exacerbates the current shortage of nurses, especially in critical care and emergency room nursing. The 'glass half-full' perspective points to the possibility of seeing a great influx of people into nursing. It also begs the question of how we are preparing our future nurses to ensure clinical competencies that will meet the needs of the 'new normal' so that we can continue to deliver safe care. Finally, there is no question that we need to continue to invest in nursing, nursing education and leadership to ensure that healthcare and patient care remain in very capable hands and we can sleep peacefully at night."

Trish Celano, MSN, RN, senior vice president, associate chief clinical officer and chief nursing executive at AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): "This pandemic has shown the strength of our nurses as they continue to walk in their calling. It takes dedication and courage to selflessly show up for others, especially in such trying times. Each nurse may choose this career for different reasons, but we believe nursing chooses them because of who they are."

David Marshall, DNP, RN, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles): "Part of our culture at Cedars-Sinai is a commitment to innovation. Our nurses have shared their ingenuity in tackling some of the big-picture problems, helping to puzzle out how we would use every available inch of space in the event of a surge and how we would dramatically increase how many ICU patients we could serve. Over the years, we've won awards and designations for our ability to test and implement new procedures, but what truly inspires is how these ideas are born. Trace them back to the beginning, and you will find a nurse or cluster of nurses who just wanted to make their patients' lives better, increase their comfort and protect their safety.

"At the same time we are implementing these innovations, we are dealing with the uncertainty inherent in this kind of unparalleled crisis. Many of us are juggling new responsibilities as a result of these changes while managing the understandable anxieties and problems that arise at work and in our daily lives. Hopefully, we can sustain the innovations and face what will almost certainly be a changed business."


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