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

Breakthrough Opportunities

TF: Dr. Valentine, you are a member of a team interested in employee well-being on behalf of the American Academy of Nursing related to both the study of the impact on nurses specifically and our profession. Can you speak to the Academy's important role in this effort?

NV: The American Academy of Nursing (AAN) has great interest in clinician well-being. The Academy's Expert Panel on Building Health Care System Excellence has formed a Well Being Workgroup, of which I am a member. The workgroup will address this issue through policy dialogue and a consensus paper. The policy dialogue will focus on ways to improve healthcare work environments. It will cover issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic and how these issues impacted the practice of nursing, including issues such as moral responsibility.

The consensus paper, which will be considered by the AAN Board of Directors, covers policy implications and recommendations. Both aim to advance the AAN priority of reducing patient, provider, and system burden and will focus on the current evidence and initiatives, such as the National Academy of Medicine's recommendations and Future of Nursing report.

TF: Nancy, thank you for your inspiring and important work. Would you please share some concluding thoughts with our readers?

NV: COVID brought us to a tipping point. Therefore, the only direction is upward. We must believe that we can make these changes and be prepared for other natural disasters as they will surely come again. We focused on the specific needs of nurses, but the recommendations will support the entire community of caregivers and employees. Health care is a rewarding field, but it comes with high levels of stress. Recognizing there are inherent complexities that can be occupational hazards helps take the blame out of needing support to sustain the work and to grow as a seasoned professional.

Melnyk and colleagues (2020) called for a paradigm shift in nursing away from crisis management to mental health promotion and wellness. Nurses must join with others to make this happen.

Let's get started and design dynamic healthcare organizations that represent health for all. This transformation across the industry will be one of the best outcomes from COVID. It will improve care, attract and retain nurses, and save money. It is the right thing to do. The business case for doing this is clearly an imperative. People are leaving the profession and major shortages are already being felt. We must have a vision where we can win people back to work and preserve existing people resources.

We have covered a lot of ideas in this discussion. I want to end on a note of true optimism. To put this in perspective, stress from a crisis creates breakthrough opportunities for innovation and adoption of new technology. Isaac Newton, long before he became "Sir," was quarantining from the plague in 1666 at the age of 23. During this time, he had a breakthrough discovery to calculate Pi more easily, which had been perplexing mathematicians around the world for centuries. His discovery advanced mathematics worldwide from where it had been previously for hundreds of years. If he did not have all this alone time, would this revolutionary discovery have occurred?

Let's learn a lesson from Newton. We must be willing to be tireless pioneers and fearless risk takers and lead the charge to make the changes needed to strengthen our world and advance our organizations upward. It is an imperative and the time is now. What other choice do we have? I am happy to speak to anyone who wants to learn more and engage in this journey. Please reach out to me.