Dealing With COVID-19 Post-Traumatic Stress

Strategies for Preserving the Nursing Workforce and Supporting all Vital Frontline Personnel

Therese A. Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN; Nancy M. Valentine, PhD, DSc(hon), MPH, FAAN, FNAP President


Nurs Econ. 2021;39(5):225-238, 250. 

In This Article

Changing the Perspective

Interestingly, there was a book published in 2013, entitled Patients Come Second written by Paul Spiegelman and Britt Berrett. The authors mention this concept was viewed by colleagues as a revolutionary statement and not one many embraced, initially. The authors were attempting to provoke thought by posing the idea that if we are to enhance employee engagement and improve care, we need to focus on taking care of our people first and then they will do the needed engagement work as they indeed embrace the mission (Spiegelman & Berrett, 2013).

In rethinking leadership as a top-down, command and control experience and replacing this behavior with more coaching and engaging directly with staff, leaders can be more effective. Through transformational leadership, Spiegelman and Berrett (2013) believe the organization's goals will be achieved, if not surpassed. Frontline staff will be more effective and patient engagement will improve. There is no doubt there is still room to grow in transformational leadership being adopted in our country, otherwise, we would not have clinicians, especially nurses, reporting they felt no one cared "if we lived or died" during COVID.

Research underscores how employers need to be mindful of the impact of COVID on the healthcare workforce. Can we turn the tide of staff departures, can existing staff be stabilized, can we create an environment that will attract and retain new staff and "win-back" some of those who have left?

It is hardly a choice. All healthcare leaders must broaden their understanding of how nurses, like others we care for, often need help, support, encouragement, and recognition, not punishment, to survive. With the COVID experience, leaders have a fresh start and a compelling opportunity to reframe employee engagement, stress, and mental health issues among staff. We need to look at this through a new lens. These are not isolated issues or experiences. The inability to cope with pressures is more prevalent than previously acknowledged. Most of these issues are long-standing and we have just worked around them.

We are at a different place now, a crossroads where we must look for lasting solutions that do not segment people and label them as deviant members of the team. Innovations often occur because of crisis or a compelling need for a solution. COVID is a wake-up call for action in finding solutions to deal more effectively with the stresses associated with caregiving and the mental health consequences of stress among nurses and all care providers.