Communication, leadership inspired ICU nurses to keep working during first COVID crisis
New research into nurses’ resilience conducted during lockdown of 2020
We are all in this together. It is a familiar refrain that has been repeated countless times throughout the past 18 months as the world came to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it has been particularly true for nurses, who have continued to go above and beyond throughout the health crisis.
New research from the University of Wollongong (UOW), published in Intensive & Critical Care Nursing, has shown that in the early days of the pandemic, as the world grappled with the unfamiliarity and the challenges of the coronavirus, nurses in intensive care units were willing to provide care for patients with COVID-19.
The paper was co-authored by Professor Ritin Fernandez and Professor Lorna Moxham, both from UOW’s School of Nursing, UOW PhD student Heidi Lord, and Clare Loveday from St George Hospital.
The research was conducted among nursing staff at a large hospital in Sydney, in March and April of 2020.
Professor Ritin Fernandez said ICU nurses demonstrated immense care and professionalism in the early days of the pandemic.
“In ICU, nurses are truly at the front line of a health crisis. They are providing care to critically ill patients, even when they are concerned about their own risk and that of their family.”
Regardless of their age, gender, or years of experience, the research showed nurses were largely willing to put the health and care of their patients ahead of their concern for or risk to their own health.
Sixty per cent of respondents indicated they would provide nursing care for a COVID-19 patient in ICU, at a time when community concern and fear about the pandemic was incredibly high.
One of the fundamental reasons they felt comfortable in their role was due to the level of communication with and the trust they had in their leadership.
“The study found effective communication from their leaders was really key to providing the nurses with the information they needed. At the time, the situation was changing minute by minute, and the ICU nurses felt their leaders were giving them timely and succinct information about COVID-19 and caring for a patient with COVID-19,” Professor Fernandez said.
“It is the main reason why they continued to work in ICU during the pandemic, because they felt very confident in their leadership. The study shows that communication is incredibly important during a public health emergency.”
Professor Fernandez said nurses have demonstrated tremendous resilience throughout the pandemic and into the current outbreak, at a time when people’s fears are once again heightened and the media environment is intense.
“We often think, ‘they’re nurses, it’s their job to look after people’. But the truth is that a nurse can choose to work anywhere. If they do not want to work in ICU, they can work in a different part of the hospital which is at a lower risk for COVID-19 infections,” she said.
“But they decided to continue working in ICU, in a position that risked their health and that of their family, which was a huge concern for them, even as the country was in a really uncertain time,” she said.
“We know more about the disease now, and nurses understand it better. That resilience is still there, they continue to provide exceptional care.”
The findings from the research will help to inform future healthcare responses to the pandemic, and demonstrate the importance of effective communication in times of crisis.
“We all say that we are in this together, but it is nurses who put that into action,” Professor Fernandez said.
“Nurses will put their hands up every single time if it’s in the best interest of their patients.”
About the research
‘Effective communication is key to intensive care nurses’ willingness to provide nursing care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic’, by Heidi Lord, Clare Loveday, Lorna Moxham, and Ritin Fernandez, was published in Intensive & Critical Care Nursing.