Policy Polit Nurs Pract. 2022 Feb;23(1):48-55. doi: 10.1177/15271544211054435. Epub 2021 Oct 27.
Nurses have always played an essential role during epidemics, risking their lives caring for sick and dying patients. However, the unprecedented nature of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has left organizations and healthcare professionals ill-prepared and under-equipped to manage the severity, manifestations, and acute and long-term implications. While COVID-19 has presented profound physical and mental health implications for nurses, we know little about nurses’ professional experiences within their organizational context. Thus, this qualitative descriptive study fills that gap through in-depth exploration of nurses’ shared professional experiences working in hospitals during the first surge of COVID-19 in the United States. Twenty-two nurses were interviewed via telephone during April and May 2020. Through thematic analysis four main themes emerged: (1) fear, (2) collective resilience through shared trauma, (3) uncharted territory, and (4) perceived disposability. Nurses felt ill-praepared for the rapid changes wrought by COVID-19; yet they also felt proud with a renewed sense of meaning in their work. While unit colleagues were a great source of strength, nurses still reported disappointment, even feeling abandoned by their organizations. Our study indicates that nurses relied on one another to cope and find meaning. These findings are invaluable for policy development and the establishment of preventive and early intervention strategies. Done right, such efforts could better support nurses by encouraging team building, protection, and rewards to maintain nurses’ wellbeing during such outbreaks and in their aftermath. Organizations also ought to make nurses’ health and wellbeing a priority by streamlining communication, transparency, and leadership visibility.