Shifting Demands of Nurses in the Age of COVID-19

Even before COVID-19, being a nurse was a demanding position. Working long, unconventional hours has resulted in nursing being one of the top professions for burnout. Even worse, these stressors have been accentuated by the pandemic. 

Here at the Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing, we understand the stress that nurses are under and the ways that the demands of the job have shifted since the start of COVID-19. We sat down with one of our members, Tina Decker, Chair of the Department of Nursing at Trinity Christian College, for a closer look at how the demands of nursing have changed and the ways in which nurses can adapt. 

Wide-Ranging Effects

Even for those who aren’t involved in a healthcare profession, the epidemic has made drastic changes to day to day life. As a nursing instructor, both Tina Decker’s personal and professional life has been affected. 

“Personally, I’ve had to social distance from family members who are considered to be at high-risk. I’ve also had to change my travel plans, and my children will all be doing school via e-learning this coming year. I’ve also been affected in my professional life as well. I had to update rules and policies to be appropriate for expectations with COVID, and I had to develop multiple plans for achieving expected outcomes. COVID has also pointed out the need for us to rethink how we use our on-campus space to allow for hands-on practices while also following social distancing expectations.” 

Shifting Demands for Nurses

Beyond the changes for the general population, the changes for nurses have been even more demanding.  

With regards to these, Tina Decker said, “I would dare say every nurse has been affected by the pandemic. Even just trying to keep up to date with the newest guidelines, and verify actual versus fake information can be mentally, spiritually, and emotionally draining. I personally have had to deal with the ongoing frustration of seeing others ignore sound science and current recommendations.”

“Nurses caring for COVID patients in hard hit areas have been particularly impacted. Many have reported depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Mental health support needs of nurses perhaps have never been so badly needed as they are right now. I have seen an increase in nurses talking about leaving the profession.”

Unconventional Changes

Still, while nurses have expected and adapted to some of these shifts, others were hard to predict.  

“A new emerging phrase for describing how nurses are feeling is “moral injury” which can be used to describe when nurses feel like they are forced into providing care that is not up to their ethical, professional standards,” said Tina Decker. 

“We recently hosted an alumni Zoom conference to allow nurses a safe place to talk about their personal experiences as nurses during the pandemic. One big theme was that the public just doesn’t understand what it is like to be a nurse right now. As a result of everything, nurses are experiencing social isolation, and they are constantly dealing with the fear of getting sick or passing COVID on to others.”

IACN Helping Nurses

Despite all of the hardships, some individuals have benefitted from the changes. According to Tina, the pandemic has increased accessibility for many, including those with disabilities. In addition, there has been increased safety for those considered high risk. While this may be of little comfort to a nurse whose life is currently turbulent, the Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing knows that the changes that nurses have encountered have been tough. We want all nurses to know that IACN is here for you and supports you.