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HealthFebruary 08, 2021

Moving forward: Nursing leadership lessons from COVID-19

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
It’s no secret that 2020 challenged the nursing profession in ways not seen for over 100 years; both nursing staff members and nurse leaders alike were forced to adapt and overcome significant challenges as Covid-19 spread throughout the world.

In the midst of this pandemic, nurse leaders have juggled many expectations. Healthcare organizations still expect leaders to focus on continuous improvement and healthcare quality. At the same time, it has also been necessary to figure out how to deal with the novel coronavirus while staying positive about the healthcare system’s ability to manage this crisis.

A recent editorial in the Journal for Healthcare Quality1 explores five of the top lessons nurse leaders should take away from the ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic. It is the author’s hope that these lessons may be used as a guide for moving forward.

Lesson 1: Put the healthcare mission first

The mission of most—if not all—healthcare organizations is simple: protect, support, and provide high-quality care for patients, families, employees, the organization itself, and the surrounding community. During the pandemic, nurse leaders have helped to protect their organization’s mission by:

  • Creating and using timely and quickly modifiable business continuity plans
  • Developing centralized command centers for long-term Covid-19 response
  • Helping stabilize the organization to overcome unpredictable circumstances while also identifying new opportunities

Lesson 2: Learn the power of the pivot

During crises, it’s sometimes necessary to almost instantaneously change strategies for patient care to meet the needs of those served. This may be described as “pivoting”, and it usually involves redeploying both human and other resources to adapt to new situations quickly. One example of effective pivoting has been the implementation and use of telehealth technologies to increase access to care. While not commonly used before the pandemic, telehealth has become a part of the normal healthcare routine for many.

Lesson 3: Communicate, and then communicate more

Honest, frequent communication helps nursing staff and others clearly understand an organization’s current and predicted circumstances. Nurse leaders should never stop communicating, even if they think they’ve already done enough. To build trust among nursing staff, leaders must tap into their humanity and offer information with full transparency.

Lesson 4: Support your people

As a third wave of Covid-19 sweeps global populations, staff and personal protective equipment shortages, hospital units at capacity, and physically exhausting work has increased levels of healthcare provider burnout to unprecedented levels—as a result, many nurses are leaving the profession long before retirement.2 Leaders absolutely must concern themselves with the well-being and safety of their employees by keeping them protected, engaged, and resilient.

Lesson 5: Adjust to the new nursing normal

It’s likely that the effects of Covid-19 will be felt for years, creating a new reality for healthcare organizations and their employees. Nurse leaders must adjust to this new normal by focusing on the future, anticipating new business models, and practicing innovative techniques for patient care.

Covid-19 is probably not the last major crisis our healthcare system will face. Nurse leaders can help safeguard employee health, protect patients, and achieve mission goals by taking these lessons to heart and implementing them in their own practice.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.

Lippincott Solutions note: for the latest coverage on Covid-19 by the Lippincott Nursing team, please visit nursingcenter.com/coronavirus.

  1. Shirley PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Maria R. “Leadership Lessons From COVID-19 and the Path Forward.” NursingCenter, 2021, nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=5743287&Journal_ID=3304723&Issue_ID=5743286.
  2. Wendy Dean and Simon G. Talbot, et al. “Beyond Burnout: This Surge of Covid-19 Is Bringing Burnover.” STAT, 24 Nov. 2020, statnews.com/2020/11/25/beyond-burnout-health-care-workers-covid-19-surge-burnover/.
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