Navigating a World of Unknowns
Friday, April 24, 2020
Posted by: Shanna Howard
By Amy McCarthy MSN, RNC-MNN, NE-BC
Secretary, Texas Nurses Association
COVID-19 has forced nursing to enter the world of unknowns. A world of unprecedented change where the rules are modified several times a day and new research is presented on almost a daily basis. We can no longer look to years of solid data or examples of similar experiences to guide us in our clinical practice. We are creating practices as we go along and what we did yesterday, may not work today.
While our colleagues in the tech industry may see this as business as usual, what many don’t understand is that this level of change and disruption is not commonplace in nursing. For instance, the practice changes in emergency departments are happening within days, when they typically would take months to implement before COVID-19.
Reaching for Innovation
Over the past few years, I began to see nursing embrace the word innovation and nurses become more comfortable with seeing themselves as change agents. While nurses are some of the most innovative people within health care, they sometimes fail to see themselves in that light.
Change can make many nurses uncomfortable as it signals a shift in the way “it’s always been done.” The status quo also represented safe, reliable patient care.
Why would we want to change something that was safe and reliable? While the answer to that is multi-faceted, the simple answer is this: It could be better.
It could be more convenient. More reliable. Safer. It could be advanced in such a way that helps to remove the social determinants of health and brings care directly to the patient when they need it most. It could be less invasive. Less expensive.
Beyond patient care, it could also relieve health care workers of some of the burdens they have carried for years and help to decrease the rates of burnout and suicide within these professions.
Moving in the Future
So how do we begin this journey of reformation in health care? It starts by changing the lens we use to view the unknown and consciously engaging in it. When we look at the unknown as something that can’t be tackled, we instantly become our own barrier. We become so focused on holding on to what used to be and grieving the loss of what we had, that we fail to see the possibilities and silver linings this new unknown could provide.
COVID-19 has certainly caused an overwhelming amount of grief and destruction worldwide. It’s important that we take time to process through emotions, turn to others for support and remind ourselves that we aren’t alone. All of us will process this event differently – what’s important it to take the time to do so and give ourselves grace throughout.
Yet what it has also done is shine a giant spotlight on the gaps in our health care systems. It has shown the world the reality nurses and other health care workers live every day. And as the dust begins to settle, we will have two choices: return to the familiar or help pave the way for a system that takes better care of its patients and those working within it.
Will it be messy? Yes. Will we fail at times? It’s inevitable.
Despite this, there is the potential of creating a health care system that fully embraces creativity and disruptive innovation and eliminates the red tape that has been associated with the change process. Evidence will always have a place in informing change, but we can now see that hesitation and delays can also diminish outcomes (read how evidence-based PPE reuse is protecting nurses during COVID-19).
With the increasing use of telehealth, we have the ability to remove barriers to care and offer services to those in areas that have struggled for decades to establish centers for care. We also have seen how removing restrictions on practice have allowed health care providers to work within their communities and travel across the country to render aid where it was most needed.
As our world begins the complex task of emerging from this pandemic, it will be important for health care workers to help take the lead in this work. In order for us to do so, we must embrace the uncertainty, accept that we may not always be experts and boldly move forward. Rebuilding our programs will be no easy feat, but neither is saving lives. We owe it to ourselves, our patients and our communities to create a healthier system of care for generations to come.