The pandemic has disrupted life as we know it, with no specific end in sight, outside of glimmers of hope with vaccines on the horizon. It has also disrupted nursing for almost 5 million of us working in the profession. Whether we are at the bedside, classroom, community, or boardroom, nursing as we know it has been upended. Our nerves are frayed and our resources are depleted.

Nurses have been on high-alert for more than 9 months and have birthed compassion fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, and such significant burnout that some nurses are either leaving their positions or seriously considering a career change. For too long nurses in all aspects of practice have tolerated the intolerable. #NursesAreNotOK is a hashtag born out of sheer frustration in an effort to tell the truth about how we are doing.

We have toed the line of “we do the best with what we have,” or worse, “we can handle this, we are nurses” as if that is a battle cry for tolerating unsafe working conditions or not speaking out when we are asked to buck up and remain silent. The problem is we are not on a battlefield, while it may feel that way, and the language of thanking the “healthcare heroes” feels hollow. Imagine feeling disposable when we know we are not. 

#NursesAreNotOK, we are tired to the core of our being.  We are discouraged by the lack of support, lack of a national response to this virus, lack of respect for our expertise and voice. #NursesAreNotOk because no one should work under the conditions we are hearing from coast to coast in hospitals that are out of PPE, out of ICU beds, and forced to turn tractor-trailers into morgues as the bodies pile up. #NursesAreNotOK because you can send all of the cheers and applause you want, but then go to a party, or a wedding, or even Thanksgiving dinner and make your poor decisions our next emergency. 

We are all dealing with uncertainty, which is adding to the collective trauma of COVID. Nurses are trained to remain calm in the face of adversity and trauma. But in the midst of long-term uncertainty, none of us are truly at our best. COVID is a collective storm, but we are not all riding out this storm in the same boat. Some of us are riding it out on a yacht, some of our are literally clinging to a buoy in this storm by our fingertips. It is important for nurses to recognize that it is ok to not be ok and ask for help, that four-letter word that we often give but seldom allow ourselves to receive. You see our greatest strengths, like loyalty and stoicism can also be our greatest vulnerabilities, and it begins with not recognizing our own needs. No longer tolerating the intolerable is perhaps one place to begin. 

You can help us too!  Stop politicizing mask-wearing, and put one on yourself, and your children. When you hear someone calling this virus a hoax or nothing more than the flu, stop and remember that almost 270,000 people have died and millions have become infected. Be respectful of the health department when they call your house. Answer the questions, cooperate with the contact tracers, they are trying to help you and your neighbors.  Put the tried and true public health mitigation strategies into place that have been shouted from the rooftops for months on end. Make an informed decision about the COVID vaccine, we need your cooperation. Don’t spread misinformation, share articles from credible sources, not conspiracy theorists. 

Here is hoping for brighter days ahead. We are facing our most challenging time of the pandemic, so we need to have reasons to hope things will improve. We can pull together as a nation if we each do our share to abide by public health guidelines and make decisions that center on safety. This is not about taking away anyone’s rights, it is about preventing needless suffering and possible death. We have lost too many people in this pandemic, let’s not add to the collective grief and trauma by remaining divided. 

If you know a nurse, love a nurse, or are related to a nurse be mindful that we are riding a wave of exhaustion through COVID. We are one sleep-deprived night away from making a bad decision and that is really scary. Encourage and support the nurse in your life to check in on their own well-being, it does not come naturally to us because we are too busy focusing on yours. 

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  • Robin Cogan

    The Relentless School Nurse

    Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 20th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. Robin is the Legislative Co-chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow. Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include, 2019 and 2020 National Association of School Nurses President’s Award, the 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year, the 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year, and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented with the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award. Robin writes a weekly blog called The Relentless School Nurse.