Jacqueline Vance, RNC, CDONA/LTC

For 19 years in a row, Americans continue to rate nurses as being the most honest and ethical of any profession that Gallup regularly asks about. Nurses’ ability to show compassion, no matter who the person is or what the circumstances are, is the number one reason we stand out.

During the height of the first variant of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses proved this through endless sacrifice, working days on end, long hours, giving up being with their families, and sadly, many giving up their lives.

Now, some ignorant people have said, “Well, nurses knew what they signed up for.”  Let me straighten anyone out who has that misconception. Unless you are planning to be a nurse in the armed services, you do not go through nursing school saying, “Gee, one day I am willing to die for my patients to be a nurse.” 

Double shifts, short staffed, days on end, maybe. But not this. Never this.

But nurses showed up, did what they had to, and ever so slowly the pandemic started to slacken. Nurses took a big breath. OK, we can maybe start normalizing a bit. 

Visitations started back at SNFs, most places didn’t have to do weekly testing, we were able to start recruiting staff again. That is, until the perfect storm of the Delta variant and unvaccinated came together. 

And nurses were like, “I don’t know if I can put my game face on again. This is now preventable, and you want me to work endless hours, understaffed, sacrifice again, risk my life because you don’t want a vaccine. I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to pull out the compassion when you get COVID.”

Hospital nurses report that these younger patients are begging for the vaccine as they are dying but it’s too late. But they are also saying that it’s hard to muster up the compassion they had before. Not that they don’t take as good care of the patient, but that something inside them is now changed. Because this didn’t have to happen. A vaccine could have prevented it.

When our unvaccinated staff bring this variant into our nursing homes and expose our vulnerable, immunocompromised elders, vaccinated or not, we’re back on the merry-go-round. Weekly testing, three-times-a-day vitals on all residents/patients, staff shortages, residents getting COVID, setting up COVID units, working long days, unending, burning out, wondering if we can keep going, etc. All because of someone’s selfishness, buy-in to blatant, politicized misinformation that is killing people. 

So no, not getting a vaccine isn’t just affecting you. It’s why we have this variant, and it’s why we all have to keep dealing with this. And it’s why nurses are burning out and getting compassion fatigue.

As I write this, 50 major medical groups including the LeadingAge, AMDA-The Society of Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine, American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Public Health Association are calling for all health care employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers. It’s logical. It’s a fulfillment of the ethical vow we all take when going into this field to put patients first. 

But it will only work if every healthcare institute does it. And since this once Pollyanna is now a major skeptic, I don’t think it will ever happen because employers fear losing employees in this already tight labor pool. But what if we all came together? I could scrape up some compassion for that.

Just keeping it real,

Nurse Jackie

The Real Nurse Jackie is written by Jacqueline Vance, RNC, CDONA/LTC, Senior Director of Clinical Innovation and Education for Mission Health Communities, LLC and an APEX Award of Excellence winner for Blog Writing. Vance is a real-life long-term care nurse. A nationally respected nurse educator and past national LTC Nurse Administrator of the Year, she also is an accomplished stand-up comedienne. The opinions supplied here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer or her professional affiliates.