The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot. Throughout the months, nurses have had to learn plenty of lessons.

What we’ve experienced put focus on the strengths and weaknesses of our national healthcare system and at the same time taught us we can make it better.

We’re teaching each other

Throughout the pandemic, physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers have taken charge and are teaching and learning from one another. Hospital EDs and critical care units were among the hardest hit, and although organizations have disaster plans outlining preparedness strategies for disasters, few if any include what this pandemic brought us.

At the height of the first surge, all pointed to the need for expanding disaster plan content and ramping up drill schedules.

In a TV interview, Dana Bensinger MSN, RN-BC, informatics nurse specialist client solution executive at Computer Task Group in Virginia said future measurements of preparedness for EHR disasters must be able to simulate care for large volumes of patients over long periods.

Especially important for recruiters are staffing issues they have encountered and the resulting lessons. In a televised interview, Maureen Swick, PhD, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, a national nurse leader and current senior vice president and system nurse executive at Atrium Health, Charlotte, N.C., emphasized the need for ongoing hiring and orientations to ensure future disaster readiness and stressed the need for well-executed staffing plans and large resource pools, both of which she said helped her organization’s COVID-19 response.

In a Caring Greatly Podcast on the pandemic, Kimberly Glassman, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAONL, FAAN, clinical professor and associate dean at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing spoke about mental health support for staff and changes in clinician training, telemedicine and innovation partnerships.

School nurses shared lessons they have learned so far from their publication on their many initiatives to keep parents informed and students safe during the outbreak.

These included returning stored student meds and making home visits to chronic care students, to delivering free school lunches and collaborating with area public health nurses and other medical professionals on their patients.

An April newsletter from the Kaiser Family Foundation highlighted some of the many lessons learned by long-term care nurses and other caregivers and outcomes at LTC facilities, as well as what staff and patients faced during the outbreak. It included comprehensive reviews and statistics on key points regarding patient and staff variables, such as age and comorbidities, community living, the nature of personal care, the impact of health organization and government policies on the care of COVID-19 patients in LTC, and other topics.

We learned from each other

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but it has been a prolific teacher so far. As a recruiter working with a variety of caregivers, you know we all learned many lessons. Professionally and personally we shared teachable moments, had personal experiences, and heard stories from patients, families, colleagues and the public that moved us or gave us new insights or different perspectives.

Here are some of mine:

  • We need the expertise of our colleagues in all the healthcare disciplines.
  • The public has great admiration and gratitude for healthcare workers.
  • Emergencies are most often unpredictable; we must be prepared for them.
  • We can’t function alone in emergencies; we need to be part of a team.
  • A good plan can’t be based on predictions, or a good decision on assumptions.
  • We all think we know a lot; in emergencies we learn we have a lot more to learn.
  • In the end, people matter more than things and health matters more than wealth.

COVID-19 pandemic tests our mettle

Throughout the outbreak to date, we’ve learned about viruses, infection rates, spread, antigens, antibodies, social distancing and a variety of other complicated issues. As new rules and regulations came along, members of the leadership teams did what they needed to do. They prepared staff for what was next as well as they could, assessing and measuring whether caregiver numbers were adequate and working to find ways to ensure they were.

Staff needed refresher courses, continuing education and new skill set training as they moved to different units or accepted new assignments. Knowing they would be concerned about social distancing, hand washing, proper use of PPE and special patient equipment, they were given guidance and action plans to help.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and as a recruitment specialist, you’re continuing to work collaboratively with staff and the management team. Leaders are learning to follow, and teachers are learning how to be taught.

We’ve all learned more about life balance. Aside from the fear of contracting the virus, we’ve had family, financial, emotional and psychological issues to deal with as we juggled work and home (and, for some of us, working from home)and cared for children and elderly family members. We’ve been brave and, at the same time, pretty scared.

It’s safe to say we’ll never forget the word “coronavirus,” along with other words like commitment, confidence, compassion, communication, collaboration, crisis and change — which will be the only constant going forward.