Nursing is a high-stress, exhausting profession – mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. During a global pandemic, “exhausting” really doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe it. Nurse burnout is at an all-time high.
I have been an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Community Health Network in Central Indiana for 12 years. In that time, I have never experienced something that impacted the nursing profession the way COVID-19 has.
Our ICU is completely full and most hospitals in the greater Indianapolis region are on diversion, meaning they can’t accept new ambulance arrivals. We’re wearing masks and respirators all day, every day. We're in gowns, gloves, and face shields. It's hot and we’re sweating. Regardless of whether we are uncomfortable (and we are), we’re doing everything we can for our patients to help them improve and get better.
In addition to being physically very ill, our COVID-19 patients have high anxiety levels. They can't have family members visit them. They're scared and alone with just their medical teams, which most of the time means they are only interacting with one nurse. We're standing in for loved ones who can’t be at the hospital. We’re being the eyes and ears of the chaplain, dietician, therapy staff, and others – all on top of being their nurse. We take on so many roles when our patients are in isolation. We work hard to improve their oxygen levels so our colleagues can come out and take a break. Some days we don’t get that break. Often our patients have been in isolation for 10 days or more and have not seen anything outside of their room.
There’s a lot on our shoulders but, as nurses, we take pride in being resilient. We became nurses to help and care for people. And even on our toughest days, that is what we do for our entire shift. On the best days we celebrate with our patients when they are finally well enough to leave the ICU. But on the worst days, we are there to hold the hands of patients as they say a final goodbye to their family through the phone. We learn, we adapt, we make it work – because that is what nurse resilience looks like.
Throughout the healthcare industry, burnout is at an all-time high. I think staff in critical care areas, like the ICU, are feeling it the most. Resiliency will only get you through so much before you hit a breaking point. At Community Health Network, we have patient care positions we just can’t fill quickly enough. There is probably a 40% staff vacancy right now and we’re hiring new grads who have the knowledge but lack the experience. These new hires require help getting acclimated and feeling confident in the care they are providing.
One of the things I have been really thankful for, now more than ever, is the Vocera Badge we use. Staff across our organization wear it under our personal protective equipment (PPE) to communicate hands-free. It’s great at understanding us, even through our N95s masks. The Badge allows us to call for additional supplies, additional staff, or a consult without having to exit our patient rooms, so we aren’t wasting time or materials with extra PPE doffing and donning. Anyone within the hospital can reach individuals by name, role, or specialty from their Vocera Badge. Calling by role is a feature I use whenever I'm reaching out to another floor to check on a patient and I'm not sure who the nurse is.
The Vocera Badge is really helpful for our travel nurses and new hires who don't know names and faces, allowing them to easily connect with the right person without needing to know who they are. It would be really hard to remember the names of all the on-call specialists, but with Vocera Badge you can just say, “call respiratory therapist,” for example, and get connected with the right person right away. It seems like a small thing but relieving just a little of the burden of nursing is helping to curb burnout.
Fortunately, I haven’t reached burnout yet, but I know many of my colleagues have. My saving grace is the terrific team I work with every day, plus, technology like the Vocera Badge which helps to reduce some unnecessary stress of my workday.