For bedside nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, each day is a challenge.
Since March 2020, millions of nurses have faced unprecedented situations of loss, anxiety and stress while on the front lines of patient care. Facing adversity on a routine basis, pandemic nurses cope with unforeseen struggles daily — all to make sure their patients receive the best care possible.
Close to home at UF Health Jacksonville, University of Florida College of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Patrick Nobles, DNP, FNP-BC, CNL, experienced these challenges firsthand and was inspired to think about how nurses were forced to be resilient, even when facing regular adversity.
While in the second-to-last semester of his Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree at the University of North Florida and simultaneously working as a charge nurse for the emergency room department, COVID-19 rocked the nation. Disruptions to patient care procedures and personal protective equipment, or PPE, requirements caused by the pandemic made it difficult for him to adapt. Worries about sitting for board exams during a period of heightened stress and graduating on time also weighed on his mind.
“The pandemic has put a high level of stress on health care professionals, especially nurses,” Nobles said. “We often don’t have the time to do much needed self-care and reflection that would otherwise help us be able to cope with many of the job’s challenges.”
Bryce Catarelli, (BSN 2010, DNP 2016),who began transitioning from a primarily clinically focused role to the role of a clinical assistant professor during the COVID-19 pandemic, also had a similar experience during her time at the bedside. However, both researchers knew this new nursing environment was unsustainable for health care workers in the long run.
After becoming faculty at the UF College of Nursing, the duo, together with the help of College of Nursing Jacksonville Clinical Lecturer Michael Aull, MSN, RN, CEN, took the first step to help nurses cope with work stress: creating a study to measure their resiliency
Defined as a nurse’s ability to survive and thrive in their environment, resiliency measures how well a health care professional can adapt to day-to-day
stress, from patient interactions to emergency interventions. If nurses have low levels of resiliency, they may begin to feel overwhelmed and start to burn out. Likewise, if their employer or administration does not provide adequate support in their work environment, it could be detrimental to how nurses cope.
“If nurses aren’t receiving the necessary support systems to keep their resiliency strong, they may even choose to leave
the profession,” Catarelli said. “A large part of what we hope to accomplish is highlighting ways that hospital administration and nursing leaders can work together to develop strategies to address this burnout before it’s too late.”
Beating Burnout Back
The team designed a survey drawing from their time as clinical professionals, tailoring questions for 390 bedside nurses at UF Health Jacksonville, UF Health North and UF Health Shands. Gainesville and Jacksonville North. Nurses were asked to self-report feelings to determine the levels of burnout and resiliency they faced during the pandemic. Their findings were striking.
Due to the added stress of the pandemic, most nurses who cared for COVID-19 patients showed higher levels of burnout than nurses who did not. Nurses with more experience reported less burnout than new graduates, and those who reported having strong support systems had high levels of resiliency. To make this more common in the workplace, pairing new graduate nurses with those with significant experience for preceptorships may be able to reduce burnout and increase resiliency in the new grad population.
Now with their findings awaiting publication, the group plans to pursue further research that may help health care organizations and nurse administrators build support systems, encourage mentorship and create continuing education opportunities to support bedside nurses during this difficult time.
“Nurses are resilient, we adapt to the challenges we face,” Nobles said. “But it is our hope that our work will play a part in helping them not face their next