Proud. Honored. Sad. Disheartened. Angry. These are the words I have used to try to describe the emotions associated with being a nurse this past year. I am not on the front lines caring for the sickest of the sick, but as a former ICU nurse, I empathize with and feel the pain of my colleagues as they describe their experiences. My nurse colleagues, from former students and coworkers to friends and family, have collectively expressed feelings of extreme exhaustion and trauma.
Death, Through a Nurse’s Eyes, a New York Times short film, is the most realistic, raw, and truthful account of being a nurse in Covid-times that I have seen to date. The images and stories it shares are not easy to process, but offer insight into what being a nurse right now means. It highlights many of the aspects of nursing that exist outside of the Covid crisis, but are especially meaningful in these times. Nurses are highly skilled professionals that can manage the most critically ill with dignity, compassion, and empathy.
The film begins to scratch the surface of how the impact of this crisis will reach far beyond what current nurses are experiencing now. It will impact our profession profoundly, as our workforce is strained and traumatized. Nurses are the most trusted of professions, and by their nature, a resilient group, but the future of our profession is forever changed.
We as a profession will need to heal, support each other, honor our collective experiences, and work together to continue to care for our communities. In order to support our current and future workforce, we need to inspire change so we can come out on the other side of this crisis strong and focused.
One of the ways we as a profession can move forward in a meaningful and positive manner is to educate and empower our future nurses. Our Cabrini Nursing team showed the film to our first cohort of freshman Nursing students. In order to prepare them for what they were about to watch, we provided context and spoke of the profound honor and pride we feel for our profession and for our colleagues.
As I looked around the room while they watched, I was overwhelmed with another emotion: Hope. Hope for our profession and for the public we serve. Hope for prioritizing health equity in our vulnerable and underserved communities. Hope that those entering the profession will bring a new lens; a new way to approach the issues that impact our colleagues and those we care for in all settings.
The discussion after the pure silence that took over the room when the video ended was a tough one. I personally was overcome by emotions in sharing my thoughts about what we had all just watched. That nurses, regardless of where they choose to practice and in what context, are a team; what affects one of us, affects all of us. And that it is an honor to be a part of that team, and to be present with those we care for in the most vulnerable of times. This video gives you a glimpse into how nurses, and other members of the healthcare team, care for each other and into how we care for each and every person we encounter.
Our future nurses shared their thoughts about how the profession is viewed by others, how there is a need to identify ways we could do better if we are ever faced with another critical global disaster, and how nurses’ care and compassion is evident in the film despite them feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Some of the students shared their thoughts and others needed time to process them first. All of them will journal on the experience after they reflect upon it, which is purposeful to help them expand their perception related to their future profession.
Hope. Hope for the next generation of nurses who will continue to lead the way with intentional compassion. A generation that truly understands the need to focus on public health and humanistically address the issues within nursing, nursing education, and healthcare as a whole that have been made blatantly apparent during this past year.