Having been a nurse for over 30 years I was surprised to hear one of my colleagues say that she felt the media hype about “Nurses being Heroes” over the COVID 19 pandemic didn’t reflect how it actually was for her. This comment has stayed with me over the past month and I have reflected on it a number of occasions. At the same time it was put into perspective further when I read how many nurses had died in the United Kingdom (UK) during the last few months. Over 100 nurses and support workers have lost their lives since the pandemic started. I was shocked and realised that New Zealand (NZ) was lucky to have been far less affected because all the NZ nurses who contracted COVID 19 have thankfully recovered.
Being able to close our borders, and lockdown the country for five weeks, has protected many of the nurses who worked in hospitals and residential care facilities. Those working in the hospital sector were largely waiting for the rush of patients to arrive and they didn’t, therefore their workload was much less than expected. People actually stayed away from emergency departments during the lockdown period so this may be the reason that being portrayed as heroes is harder to stomach. Meanwhile behind the scenes in the lead up to the pandemic, infection control teams were working hard to ensure that correct policies and procedures were put in place to protect the public and staff during the outbreak. These teams consist of highly experienced nurses and the majority of the workforce on the frontline testing the public in the COVID testing centres were also nurses. This clearly demonstrates the key roles nurses played in the pandemic.
Accordingly this made me think about the times I spent with patients and their families. Nurses are the people at the bedside with patients’ right to the end, and they are there afterwards to comfort the families too, yet we are quick to dismiss this as just part of our work. The saying “just a nurse” has been around forever. For me it carries much more meaning because being just a nurse is a very special role. It is important to realise that professional burnout is widespread through our profession nevertheless the health of patients and the organisations they are in begins with the well-being of the health workforce (Wei, et al., 2020). Nurses need support to combat burnout and compassion fatigue to keep them healthy and in the work place. So we must celebrate our uniqueness as nurses, acknowledge the difference we make in peoples lives and start seeing ourselves as heroes even when we don’t feel like one.
As Maya Angelou said “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This to me is the true essence on what nurses do. So nurses put on your capes and go out with your heads high because you are the heroes of this pandemic.