Nurses share lessons from pandemic on International Nurses Day

Female nurse with a mask putting on gloves

This International Nurses Day, nurses in Missouri are raising concerns about the long-term mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as urging the healthcare industry to prepare for future health crises.

Heidi Lucas, state director of the Missouri Nurses Association, said nurses worry about possible future spikes. While more people are getting the vaccine, she noted vaccination rates aren’t yet where they need to be. 

Lucas emphasized many Registered Nurses are experiencing burnout, and some of the members she’s spoken to are considering early retirement or leaving the profession after facing the pandemic as front-line healthcare workers.  “Over the next five to 10 years, are we going to continue to have the nursing shortages?” Lucas wondered. “Are we going to lose more nurses out of the field? Are the mental health issues really going to take a toll? Are we going to be seeing PTSD from our nurses?”

She stressed tackling nurse shortages requires a multi-pronged approach, from expanding nurse education programs to changing staffing norms.

Lucas pointed out there aren’t enough nurse faculty in the state, and she supports increasing pay so that it’s worthwhile for some folks with nursing degrees to teach rather than go into practice.

She also observed that hospitals have changed nurses’ schedules to shorter workweeks with 12-hour shifts over the last few decades, but she noted those can be incredibly draining. “You work a 12-hour shift on your feet, and you go back home, and you’re exhausted; you can’t offer anything to your family,” Lucas asserted.

Lucas added COVID-19 will not be the last major health crisis the U.S. faces, and she hopes the healthcare industry will prepare adequately.

“Continuing to wear the mask going ahead and getting vaccinated, you know, trusting science and trusting the health-care community who are seeing what’s going on, I think that’s a big takeaway from this to have potentially better outcomes than what we’ve had through COVID-19,” Lucas concluded.