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Nurses can find comfort from deregulation, better funding, safety measures and other reforms that pandemic has wrought | READER COMMENTARY

LaKya Taylor, who has worked at St. Agnes Hospital for 14 years, describes the new stresses of working as an ICU nurse during the coronavirus pandemic. April 29, 2020
LaKya Taylor, who has worked at St. Agnes Hospital for 14 years, describes the new stresses of working as an ICU nurse during the coronavirus pandemic. April 29, 2020 (Amy Davis)

It is with mixed feelings that I read so much now about nurses on the front lines. I am grateful to Meredith Cohn and Christina Tkacik and other journalists covering not just physicians (as important as their role is) but nurses and a host of other health care workers (“On Baltimore’s front lines nursing those sickened by coronavirus: ‘I tell them I won’t give up if they won’t give up,'” May 1). I’m grateful that the public is more aware of the how important and challenging is the work of these professionals, particularly nursing — a profession that has been highly respected while not well understood. All the while, I worry about colleagues and students, and how they will cope with the impact of this crisis.

When I graduated from nursing school almost 45 years ago, I realized that what had driven me to nursing was more a desire to promote health rather than to manage illness. So I became a midwife and got a degree in public health. And after 20 years of clinical practice, I spent 25 years focused on policy and advocacy with the goal of building and supporting the nursing and midwifery workforce. For the last 10 years, I’ve taught health policy to graduate students in a school of nursing, inspired by the passion my students bring to their work, whether school nursing or intensive care. Today, the nurse anesthetists who would normally be providing anesthesia for elective surgery are caring for incubated patients in the ICU, the nurse practitioners and midwives in primary care are shifting to telehealth or staffing drive-by testing units, and they are all figuring out how to plug the holes now so visible in our struggling health care “system.”

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And now, in the face of this crisis, governors are signing executive orders that lift restrictions on advanced practice nurses, the very (senseless) restrictions that I have spent decades fighting. This virus has managed to cut through the politics in a way that our advocacy couldn’t. And so I desperately hope that one silver lining in the dark cloud of this pandemic is an appreciation of nursing and midwifery that will manifest itself in more than flyovers and clapping (as nice as those might be) but in funding for education, safe working conditions and regulatory changes that ease the burden of this important work.

For many years, my emails to colleagues engaged in policy work carried the signature line, “Yours in the struggle.” My message to colleagues on the front line today: I wish I could do more for you, but know that from your fatigue and grief will come much good.

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Lisa Summers, Baltimore

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