AARP Eye Center
En español | We keep hearing that we as a country have moved on from COVID. But we are here to tell you: nurses have not. This pandemic has changed our profession forever. For three very long years, nurses have shown up again and again, every single day, to provide care for those in need, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. They have tapped into their well of compassion and resilience to meet the challenges and attempt to keep you safe and help you heal. And many nurses have given more than anyone should be expected to give—including their lives.
Nurses across the country are exhausted, discouraged and are leaving their roles or the profession in droves. Maybe you’ve seen the headlines about the nursing shortage reaching crisis levels. It is time for a re-calibration. Americans have identified nurses as the most trusted profession, in or out of health care, for two decades. It is time to back that sentiment up with action.
We recently conducted an informal online survey asking colleagues in nursing how the public, their patients and their friends and families, can support nurses. We took what they told us and distilled it into the ten ideas below. If everyone in this country did one or more of these simple things, we could begin to heal the heart of health care, together.
1. Learn what nurses do
Contrary to historical images and old stereotypes, nurses are highly trained professionals with a wide range of skills, tools, and specialized knowledge to help people prevent or respond to health challenges. They are trained to provide holistic care based on reliable evidence, to help their patients make informed decisions, and be a trusted guide through the health care system. Nurses work in communities, schools, clinics, homes, and hospitals. They are clinicians, educators, researchers, and policymakers. And importantly, they have been your ally and your advocate. They would appreciate it if others learned what it means to be a nurse during these complex times. Here is a quick read that offers a sense of the breadth and depth of the nursing profession.
2. Show respect and trust that it’s mutual
“The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.” That is the first sentence in the Nursing Code of Ethics. Nurses are dedicated to providing respectful care for everyone; they deserve the same from their patients and the public. We understand you are stressed, worried and angry, but please don’t take out your fear or anger on to the people who are trying to help you. Before you speak or react, pause to consider, Is what I am about to say or do respectful? Is it necessary? Will it be beneficial? Is it directed toward the person who can address my concern? Will it have consequences for me or this person or the person I am trying to advocate for? No one should be treated with unkind or disrespectful speech or violence toward them. Consider how you would want to be treated if you were at the other end of the stethoscope.
3. Share your concerns with the right person
Nurses at the point of care are not the policy makers or the person determining your treatment plan. Many of the issues that are arising in health care right now are not of their making. If you have concerns, share them through the appropriate channels. Most hospitals have a patient relations or patient experience office. Start there. Write a constructive letter to the leaders of the hospital outlining your concern. Ask to speak to a nurse supervisor. If your concerns relate to your plan of treatment, ask to speak with the clinician in charge of your care.
4. Don’t hesitate to say thank you
Right now, there is a serious shortage of nurses to provide care for the people who need it. Adopt the mindset to be kind to the nurses who showed up. We need to keep all nurses who can serve in the workforce so that you can get the care you need and that they want to deliver. For many, you are the reason they have sacrificed so much to keep showing up. Thank your nurses for showing up and for their care, expertise, and concern. If you are inclined, write or convey a message of gratitude to the leaders where the nurse is employed. You can also be a voice for nurses. Tell your neighbors, family, and friends the difference the nurse made in your healing. Write a letter to the editor about a positive experience or share it on social media!
5. Do your part to lighten nurses’ workload
You probably expect that nurses will always be there when you need them. But right now, the nursing workforce is depleted, in every sense of the word. So who will care for you if you need 24/7 care in a hospital? Without nurses, hospitals cannot provide care that optimizes outcomes for you. The best way for you to reduce your need for hospital care right now is to invest in your own health. Take steps to be proactive in identifying health needs instead of waiting until you are sick. There is a lot each of us can do to stay healthy and stay out of the hospital, and that’s a win-win.
6. Seek out factual information
It’s hard to know who to believe these days. Many people suffered or died during the pandemic because of misinformation. Make sure you are using reliable sources that provide evidence-based information rather than opinions expressed in social media or the internet. Be an informed consumer. Nurses can and want to help you!
7. Ask questions
When you must be in a health care environment, be an engaged consumer. Ask nurses questions with a mindset of curiosity and respect. Clarify expectations—what can you expect and what is expected of you as a patient or care partner. Determine how you can be involved in your own or your loved one’s care and treatment. Talk with nurses to ask the questions you may be afraid to ask but need to know.
8. Partner with nurses as they are critical to your care
Safe, quality care is the primary goal of hospitals and nurses are the front line staff who are critical to achieving that goal. In the hospital setting, nurses know that you might be scared and anxious and we want to be able to help. You might consider asking your nurse what you should expect during your stay. Talk with your nurse about what is most troubling and urgent for you and come up with a plan for how to work together effectively. Recruit a family member or friend to be present when you feel most vulnerable.
9. Be an ally
Many aspects of the health care system are not currently working—for anyone. Without healthy workplaces that support nurses to fulfill their commitments to the public, the health care system is unsustainable. Health care institutions, government and the public will need to support nurses to do what they do best—care for the sick, injured or people with disabilities in any setting within communities across America. Use your voice, words, influence, and advocacy to remove barriers to safe, quality care delivery. Increasing the supply of nurses is essential to improving overall quality care and making our health care system strong.
Voting is a key way to exercise your power as a consumer. Make sure you are registered to vote. Ask candidates about their proposals to address the nursing shortage, improve the work environment, recalibrate compensation, and create protections against violent acts against nurses. Tell them your own story of when nurses have made a difference and why investing in them is wise and necessary.