DiversityNursing Blog

What the Pandemic Taught Us About the Changing Role of Nurses

Posted by Dr. Susan Stone CNM, DNSc, FAAN, FACNM President, Frontier Nursing University

Tue, Jan 11, 2022 @ 02:15 PM

frontierEven before the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was well-known that the U.S. was facing a health care provider shortage. This trend was verified in a June 2020 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges^, which estimated the U.S. faces a potential physician shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 by 2034.

Partly because of this growing need, nurses are increasingly serving as primary caregivers in hospitals and clinics across the country. There are more than 3.8 million registered nurses in the United States and nurses comprise the largest component of the nation’s healthcare workforce*.

Necessity is not the only reason more patients are turning to nurses for primary care. Nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners have a core focus on promoting optimal health, not only caring for the sick but also providing guidance to assist in long-term health. This model of care forms a partnership between nurse and patient with a focus on promoting ongoing health in addition to treating illness. The focus on health maintenance is a core characteristic of the practice of nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners. A study on the prevention of chronic disease by Ritsema TS, Bingenheimer JB, Scholting P, et al.+ concluded that “across all conditions, NPs provide health education to patients more frequently than physicians.” Midwifery care as defined by the American College of Nurse-Midwives includes health promotion, disease prevention, wellness education and counseling, and full-scope primary care services including maternity care. Midwifery care has been shown to decrease cesarean section rates, decrease interventions and decrease preterm birth^^.

Midwifery and nurse practitioner care do not replace physician care. Health care services are complex and one type of provider cannot provide all services needed. It takes a team of different types of providers to provide the full complement of services needed. One study demonstrated that patients receiving care from primary care physicians received only 55% of recommended chronic and preventive services. The gap is attributed to physicians being overworked. The study further estimated that 50-70% of preventative services and 25%-47% of chronic care services could be done by nurse practitioners or physician assistants. By working together, we can assure that patients receive all of the recommended and preventive and chronic care services**.

Nurses’ expertise and versatility were brought into focus during the height of the pandemic. As hospitals and clinics overflowed, the healthcare system was stretched to its limit. Nurses were called on to assume additional responsibilities and leadership roles, such as organizing drive-through testing and vaccination sites or directing clinics. Some traveled, leaving their families for weeks or months at a time to care for patients in locations both rural and urban where additional care was most needed.

While provider shortages have been amplified during the pandemic, this shortage was a known issue before the pandemic and will persist after. Most at risk due to the provider shortage are those in underserved populations and rural communities. The previously mentioned report by the Association of American Medical Colleges concluded that “If underserved populations were to experience the same health care use patterns as populations with fewer barriers to access, current demand could rise by an additional 74,100 to 145,500 physicians. This analysis underscores the systematic differences in annual use of health care services by insured and uninsured individuals, individuals in urban and rural locations, and individuals of differing races and ethnicities.”

Frontier Nursing University is proud to be a leader in the changes needed to address healthcare provider shortages. Frontier’s mission is “to provide accessible nurse-midwifery and nurse practitioner education to prepare competent, entrepreneurial, ethical, and compassionate leaders in primary care to serve all individuals with an emphasis on women and families in diverse, rural, and underserved populations.” Our students are graduate-level students seeking advanced nurse practitioner and nurse-midwifery degrees. For many, taking two years off work to pursue an advanced degree is not an option. They must be able to continue to work where they live while pursuing advanced degrees at the same time.

FNU was founded in 1939 in rural Hyden, Kentucky, and our impact, though significant, was limited in scope due to our remote location. In 1989 we introduced a distance learning model that allowed students nationwide to attend FNU from their home communities, requiring only a few trips to campus. Today, 70% of FNU’s more than 2,500 students live in health professional shortage areas (HPSA) as defined by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), demonstrating the potential impact of FNU graduates within these underserved communities.  

Many of our 8,000 alumni have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic. Some have worked as travel nurses in pandemic hot zones, while others delivered the first vaccine doses by boat to remote villages in Alaska. Some developed procedures to help patients avoid crowded lobbies. Others accomplished the remarkable feat of opening their own clinics during the height of the pandemic. Meanwhile, FNU’s distance learning model allowed the majority of our students to continue their progress without interruption.  

The pandemic has brought to light much of what we already knew. It has further demonstrated the need for change in our healthcare system and proved that nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners must play increased roles in the health and well-being of our communities. The pandemic reminded us that primary care services provided by advanced practice nurses and nurse-midwives are safe and effective. It is now more clear than ever that nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and physicians must work together to attain optimum health outcomes for our country.

^ IHS Markit Ltd. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2019 to 2034. Washington, DC: AAMC; 2021.

*Smiley, R.A., Lauer, P., Bienemy, C., Berg, J.G., Shireman, E., Reneau, K.A., & Alexander, M. (October 2018). The 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 9(3), supplement (S1-S54).

+Ritsema TS, Bingenheimer JB, Scholting P, et al. Differences in the delivery of health education to patients with chronic disease by provider type, 2005–2009. Prev Chronic Dis 2014; 11: 130175. - PMC - PubMed

^^ Loewenberg Weisband Y, Klebanoff M, Gallo MF, Shoben A, Norris AH. Birth Outcomes of Women Using a Midwife versus Women Using a Physician for Prenatal Care. J Midwifery Women’s Health. 2018 Jul;63(4):399-409. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12750. Epub 2018 Jun 26. PMID: 29944777.

**Altschuler J, Margolius D, Bodenheimer T, Grumbach K. Estimating a reasonable patient panel

size for primary care physicians with team-based task delegation. Ann Fam Med.

2012;10(5):396-400. doi:10.1370/afm.1400

++IHS Markit Ltd. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2019 to 2034. Washington, DC: AAMC; 2021

Topics: Frontier Nursing University, nursing, nurses, FNU, pandemic, role of nurses, nurse role

The Importance of Race and Ethnicity COVID Vaccine Data

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Apr 05, 2021 @ 10:59 AM

vaccine1For the last year, health experts have pleaded for better data to shed light on disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among communities of color.

Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, health care organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA), American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) have been asking for more race and ethnicity vaccine data.

This important data is missing for half of coronavirus vaccine recipients. According to the CDC, the data from 52,614,231 people fully vaccinated, Race/Ethnicity was available for 28,234,374 (53.7%).

This data is imperative in ensuring an equitable response to a pandemic that continues to disproportionately affect these vulnerable populations.

“Race and ethnicity data provides critical information to clinicians, health care organizations, public health agencies and policymakers, allowing them to equitably allocate resources across all communities, evaluate health outcomes and improve quality of care and delivery of public health services,” says the open letter, sent by the AMA, APhA and the ANA.

Equitable distribution of vaccines is crucial. When states collect this information, it helps officials identify large racial gaps so they can find better ways to distribute shots.

North Carolina is leading the way in data collection. The state now has racial and ethnicity data for more than 98% of vaccine recipients.

To achieve this high rate of collection, a state-mandated software system was used which requires providers to record a person’s race and ethnicity in order to register them for a vaccination.

“The data is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have in order to embed equity into every aspect of our response and now into vaccine operations,” says Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

"Communities should be able to generate daily and certainly weekly data to understand the demographics of who is being vaccinated. Local health departments and health institutions need to respond to these data in real time to identify where COVID-19 vaccine uptake is not matching COVID-19 disease burden," said Dr. Muriel Jean-Jacques, Northwestern University Department of Medicine vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion, and Dr. Howard C. Bauchner of the Boston University School of Medicine, a professor of pediatrics and community health.

Many barriers make it difficult to access the vaccine.

People from hard hit communities often have limited access to digital tools needed to schedule an appointment. And often information about vaccine registration is only available in English.

States that partner with community-based organizations are administering the vaccine more equitably than others, said Rita Carreón, vice president of health at UnidosUS, a civil rights organization for Hispanic communities.

The lack of race and ethnicity data in health systems didn’t begin with this pandemic. For years, health experts have been pleading for better health data to reduce racial health disparities.

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Topics: CDC, vaccines, racial health disparities, pandemic, covid-19 vaccine data, race and ethnicity data, covid-19 vaccine

New Ways Hospitals Are Helping Their Frontline Workers Deal With Stress

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Oct 19, 2020 @ 02:59 PM

nursebreakFrontline healthcare workers face stressors during normal times, but especially now during a pandemic and hospitals are finding new ways to help their staff cope. 

Recently, University Hospitals in Ohio announced they would be trying out a 10-month pilot program that provides sleep pods for their teams. Doctors, Nurses and staff in the UH Cleveland Medical Center Emergency Department will have access to two HOHM units as a space to safely recharge.

Each 43.5 square-foot pod is designed to block out sound and features a twin-sized bed, a privacy and sound-blocking curtain, charging stations, and a tablet to control reservations. 

“Our UH Cleveland Medical Center Emergency Department frontline caregivers have been working tirelessly for months to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Robyn Strosaker, MD,, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center Chief Operating Officer. “In the midst of all this trauma and stress, we’ve continuously looked for new ways to support our team, and HOHM sleep pods are a way we can help address their wellbeing.”

Some hospitals are making design changes to their break rooms as a way to try and help healthcare workers manage their stress throughout the day. 

Nurses may be reluctant to take breaks especially during times of crisis. But taking breaks during your shift can help prevent burnout. So when a Nurse does decide to take a break, there should be a space where they can fully decompress and have time to gather their thoughts and recharge. 

Research has found strong evidence between exposure to natural environments and recovery from physiological stress and mental fatigue. Break rooms are becoming a green space with plants and images on the walls of natural landscapes. Create a sitting space with cushioned chairs or ottomans by windows that have a nice view outside. Offer the option of listening to calming music or nature sounds inside the break room. 

Hospitals are also offering time for their staff to spend with support animals. 

Nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence provided Jordy, a lab/golden retriever cross to help frontline workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. 

“The science confirms what we already know, pets provide comfort and support during hard times,” said Jessica Lacanlale, MSN, Trauma Program Manager at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “The stress of caring for patients and working long hours is intense; but spending a little time with Jordy lifts my spirits and helps me get through the long days.”

Health Systems like Yale New Haven Health are offering confidential well-being check-in programs. This offers employees an opportunity to meet with an expert social worker or clinician one-on-one to discuss their needs and access resources to manage stress and improve well-being.

“People often downplay their own needs, saying ‘I’m OK’ when asked how they are doing,” said Javi Alvarado, YNHHS’ director of social work and co-chair of the WELD Council. “These visits create an opportunity to be better than ‘OK’ and truly grow from recent challenges.” 

During this pandemic, it is critical hospitals and health systems recognize what stress looks like and takes steps to help their staff cope with it. Equally as important is that healthcare workers know where they can go for help. This means internal communications to staff is key to express your awareness of the stress and the assistance being offered.

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Topics: coping, stress, hospital staff, healthcare professionals, Nurse burnout, managing stress, stress management, frontline workers, frontline healthcare workers, pandemic

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