Like everyone else, nurses faced hardships in their work and personal lives this past year. However, they’ve also faced additional burdens that come with working in health care during a pandemic. Whether they were working on the front lines of direct patient delivery or supporting our health care and public health systems, nurses were thrown into the unknown in March 2020. Even now, they continue to face new challenges as we rush to vaccinate our nation and begin to catch up on delayed care.
This National Nurses Week (May 6–12), we want to take a moment and thank all of the nurses who have sacrificed so much, and who continue to work tirelessly to protect our communities.
Nurses have overcome a lot this past year
The pandemic has created extraordinary barriers for nurses. First and foremost, nurses are people. Their children are learning remotely. They know people who have gotten COVID-19. They worry about their family’s heath. Like everyone else, nurses have had to adopt new ways of working during the pandemic. On top of the “normal” pandemic stress, nurses are also dealing with the daily concerns that come with being a health care worker during COVID-19. Now, studies show that medical professionals need to focus on their own well-being after shouldering an intense workload over the past year.
While the rollout of vaccines has been a welcome ray of hope, nurses are often on the front lines of clearing logistical barriers and addressing other challenges so that our society can move into its “new normal.” Nurses have more than earned the opportunity to pause and take some time for themselves to recharge.
Rural areas face unique challenges and provide unique opportunities
We often don’t think about rural areas as being at the forefront of health care. But while small facilities and remote home health care settings may not always have the same sophisticated infrastructure you would find in a big city, those same attributes can be an advantage. For example, North Dakota initially led the nation in COVID-19 vaccination rates.
The ability for remote settings to quickly mobilize vaccination efforts makes sense. When you know your community well, finding someone for an extra vaccine at the end of the day can be as easy as calling a friend, family member or neighbor who can quickly get to the location. In one small town in Iowa, people were able to get a vaccine because the health care workers had developed their own ad-hoc system to make sure no doses were wasted during nursing home vaccinations.
We can learn a lot from how nurses in rural settings connect with their patients. While we may not all have intimate knowledge of the day-to-day lived experiences of those we encounter, we can leverage Federally Qualified Health Centers and other community-based organizations to build our own understanding and trust within communities. These relationships are critical to building confidence in immunizations and in broader health care efforts, including those focused on health disparities and health equity.
Bridging the gap between health care and community culture
A nurse’s connection to local culture is also vital for serving patients. Rose, a registered nurse for our Community Plan of Hawaii, jumped into helping her community at the beginning of the pandemic by continuing to learn and provide free Lomi Lomi, a traditional Hawaiian massage commonly practiced on the islands. She was also invited to participate in a prestigious three-year Lāʻau Lapaʻau course that focuses on unique cultural competencies, including living as a healer, applying knowledge, practicing humility and meditation, and discerning the importance of healing.
The Hawaiian culture has strong spiritual ties to the land, and Rose has seen a lot of Hawaiians bypass the Western medical system due to a lack of trust. She is working to bridge the gap between these two worlds through deep, meaningful relationships with her community. This includes learning old healing practices of the land to understand how conditions were assessed and treated before Western medicine. “It’s not just about assessment and treatment,” said Rose. “We also assess spiritual and emotional imbalances as well.” As we care for our members and communities, knowledge of local culture will strengthen how we can serve them in meaningful ways.
Thank you to our nurses
This year’s National Nurses Week message is simple: As a workforce that does so much for others, this week is the ideal time for our nurses to take some time for themselves. We hope nurses can take some time to rest, relax, recharge and celebrate their successes. We thank nurses for everything they’ve done and continue to do to keep our communities safe.
General Counsel, UnitedHealthcare Community & State
Jennifer Dukart works as General Counsel for UnitedHealthcare Community & State. Before that, she spent nearly 10 years in the nursing field, including working as a nurse’s aide, in home health settings and as part of a hospital post-anesthesia care unit. Today, she uses those experiences on the front lines of care to inform decisions as she works with business leaders and clinicians to improve the lives of members and the health care system.
Vice President of Quality, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Hawaii
Kie has over 20 years of healthcare experience managing clinical operations (case management, wellness and disease management programs), staff development, call center management, quality assurance, compliance, URAC, and NCQA accreditation activities. Kie has succeeded in building strong, positive, and interactive leadership teams that focus on continuous quality improvement while adhering to sound fiscal stewardship practices and implementing process improvement strategies to achieve goals. Kie is a Registered Nurse with master’s degree in Business Administration, obtained Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification and certified in taking care of medically fragile children. Kie resides in Hawaii with her family and enjoys spending time with them, playing piano and photography.