Recognizing the not-so-everyday heroism of nurses

May 5, 2020 |  Nursing, Coronavirus


There has been a lot of talk about heroes lately, and rightfully so. 

Over the past several weeks I’ve been seeing signs around the neighborhood, made by children, thanking our healthcare heroes: hand-drawn rainbow art taped to front doors and living room windows. It got me thinking about what our childhood heroes looked like before this crisis. Ordinary people with extraordinary powers, anonymously protecting the defenseless. Sports teams that never give up, even when they fall behind. Our moms and dads, looking out for us and putting our needs before their own. Do they remind you of anyone?

In my eyes, nurses have always been heroes. But now, they’re being called on to wear a superhero’s mask for their entire shifts, and then some. Their heroism comes in many forms, big and small, seen and unseen. The unprecedented challenges our nurses face in the COVID-19 pandemic are only matched by the acts of courage they display every hour, every day they’re on the job. The stories I hear from colleagues, see on the news, and read in my social media feed have put a spotlight on the not-so-everyday heroism of nurses.

Maria Cantu, a nurse practitioner at Palo Pinto General Hospital (Mineral Wells, TX) felt called to serve on the frontlines of the crisis in New York City. The Mineral Wells Index reported that Cantu, like many other recruited clinicians, decided to leave a long term secure job to work in the ED at The Mount Sinai Hospital. She told the Index, "We all have something inside our heart that we want to do something impactful. I can do this.”

Others are sharing their experiences working in ICUs or COVID units, with day-in-life vlogging. Elyse Isopo, a nurse practitioner supervisor at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset, NY) recognized the importance of giving a realistic view into how COVID-19 overwhelms healthcare systems and providers. Located in a hotspot in Nassau County, NY, Isopo is working 13-hour shifts five days a week in an intensive care unit. Her vlog gives an unflinching look at a grueling day in the ICU, as she and fellow providers celebrate the highs: a patient being extubated, her father—a COVID-19 patient—being discharged, and community support in the form of letters, artwork, and baked goods. The lows are documented just as vividly: death of a young patient with a wife and three children, the stress of ICU overflow, mental and physical exhaustion. “I cried. I had a little meltdown,” she confesses. “I took a deep breath, and went back to work, because that’s what we do. This is our calling, not just our job.”

One of the heartbreaking challenges our healthcare system has seen is the necessary change to hospital visitation policies. Families can no longer be in the same room with their sick loved ones to sit vigil, say last words, or simply hold their hands. But clinicians are finding ways to ease the burden of these new restrictions. At Kearney Regional Medical Center (Kearney, NE), nurses are arranging for their patients to FaceTime or place a call to visitors waiting outside their room windows. Patients can bring their own cell phones, which a nurse will then disinfect so they can talk with loved ones for as long as they wish. 

And a hero’s journey rarely ends when they finish their shift. Many nurses are working beyond their normal hours and duties, going the extra miles for patients on their own time. When health care workers from Valley Health System (Ridgewood, NJ) learned that a 20-year-old hospice patient, who happens to be a major car enthusiast, wouldn’t be able to go on a family road trip due to the pandemic, the home care team surprised their patient with a classic car parade. Valley organized more than 50 speedsters, hot rods, and racers to rev their engines down the young man’s street in Bergenfield, NJ, as he looked on with family and friends.

And the important work of Cynthia Rushton, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and Berman Institute of Bioethics, should not be forgotten. Rushton has co-founded the Frontline Nurses Wikiwisdom Forum, which gives nurses fighting the COVID-19 pandemic a safe online space to share experiences with each other. Forum participants are invited to engage in online questions and answers, which will later be created into a framework of key ideas for a report to be published by the American Journal of Nursing.

From caring on the frontlines to creating resources for peers, small acts of nursing heroism are happening all around us. To our masked heroes, whether on the front line, or supporting them behind-the-scenes, we say today and every day, ‘Thank you.’ 

Learn how MEDITECH is supporting healthcare organizations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Written by Cathy Turner, BSN, MBA, RN-BC, Chief Marketing and Nursing Executive, MEDITECH

Cathy Turner, BSN, MBA, RN-BC is a member of the Healthcare Information Management System Society (HIMSS) and the American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA), as well as chief executive of MEDITECH’s marketing and nursing departments. Cathy has been named a recipient of the 2023 HIMSS Changemaker in Health Award.
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