By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Nursing represents a rewarding, yet challenging career. Both internal and external forces can create conflict and stress for nurses, and many of these are exacerbated by the pandemic.
“It’s a two-sided situation,” said Deb Stamps, an RN with a doctorate in education with Rochester Regional Health of the pandemic. “Some see nursing as their calling and others realize it isn’t and they leave the profession. It’s tough.”
1. Working Conditions
The pandemic has made working conditions even more difficult for nurses.
Conforming to CDC guidelines for personal protective equipment means nurses must wear PPE for eight to 12 hours straight.
Healthcare providers also have more hoops to jump through with daily check-ins to assure they have not been exposed to COVID-19. Any nurses who do not pass their assessment cannot report to work, which causes other nurses to have to cover their shifts.
When patients cannot have family visiting, “we have to be the advocate and support,” Stamps said.
That adds another layer of emotional demand as nurses offer comfort to patients.
“My concern is we’re not dealing with widgets, but people,” Stamps said. “We need the right standard of care. We have to deliver care so we don’t compromise.”
She added that adequate staffing—a longstanding challenge of nursing—is the only way to do so.
“Asking to do more with less has always been the case; now it’s apparent,” said Sheila Rogers, who has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, is a lifetime member of Rochester Black Nurses Association and holds a master’s degree in leadership. She works at Rochester Regional Health as an off-shift nursing supervisor.
2. Educational Opportunities
CNAs seeking to become LPNs or RNs may lack that chance. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing states in its 2019-2020 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing that US nursing schools turned away 80,407 qualified applicants because they lacked capacity for teaching them. That includes faculty, classroom space and other resources.
Like other healthcare professionals, nurses are required to take continuing education units (CEUs). Finding the time to do so and the courses challenges many nurses. Rogers encourages nurses to join nursing organizations so they can stay up to date on opportunities to fulfill their CEU obligations and enrichment courses.
3. Remuneration and Perks
As healthcare organizations have experienced seismic budget effects because of the pandemic, some have been unable to offer staff age increases.
“When nurses don’t get raises, it makes them say, ‘We’re working the hardest we’ve ever worked, yet we’re not getting the compensation for it,’” said Celia McIntosh, nurse practitioner and legislative liaison with the Genesee Valley Nurses Association. She has worked in nursing for more than 20 years.
Flexibility in scheduling has always been a hallmark perk of nursing. For many women entering the field, nursing can offer a means to earn a good income while caring for their families. McIntosh said that during the pandemic, many nurses have experienced a much different schedule and different patient population than before. With more nurses unable to come into work, that can mean working in areas and at times they have not worked before.
4. Workplace Conflicts
Nursing is a field based on relationships: caregiver to patient, caregiver to caregiver and leader to caregiver. McIntosh said that conflict can arise in those professional relationships when the same people continually obtain leadership roles for which others are qualified but do not receive an opportunity.
“When you apply, you’re told that you don’t have any experience,” McIntosh said. “But when Sally applied, she had no experience. You can’t get an opportunity. There can be this double standard with certain things.
“They really should be trying to grow their own, especially if there are nurses who have been in the organization some time, like a leadership program for upcoming nurses so they can rise through the ranks if that’s what they’d like to do.”
She added that some healthcare leaders fail to talk with their staff and truly listen, which can lead to disgruntled nurses.
Racism also causes conflicts among staff, as McIntosh said that in some organizations or departments, the standard is different for people of color.
“If you’ve felt like you have to jump higher and run faster than your colleagues, you’ll want to exit the field,” McIntosh said. “The burnout is the mental exhaustion of trying to think about those microaggressions.
“You’re always feeling that there are questions about orders they put in even though it’s a standard protocol.”
5. Professional Recognition
McIntosh cited a 2020 McKinsey & Company study, “Women in the Workplace” which stated that only 3% of leaders in the workplace are women of color.
“That goes along with hospital organizations,” McIntosh said. “We have to consider why are people not entering the field or getting the same opportunities. Those are definitely some big challenges.”