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How to Rebuild America’s Trust During COVID-19

Author(s): Patricia Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN; and Kimberly McIltrot, DNP, CPNP, CWOCN, CNE, FAANP, FAAN

Start with Nursing

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shock waves across the nation. With devastation all around us, people’s lives and livelihoods have been on the line. They are worried; they want answers; they want honesty; and they want someone they can trust.

As America’s most trusted profession for 19 years, nurses can and should be that trusted voice. Working individually or as part of interdisciplinary care teams, nurses are valuable assets. The pandemic has increased the visibility of nurses but there is so much work to do to make sure their voices are heard. In order to make sure nurses have a voice and are advocates for patients, families, and communities, we have the following suggestions.

Appoint More Nurses in Government Positions

Government officials, in their responsibility for leading the health, social, and economic welfare of their citizens, must be privy to how our populations work, live, and experience the world. Nurses have incredible insight into these experiences. They are frontline problem solvers who have the advantage of seeing what actually works for patients and their families. They are committed to health promotion and disease prevention and keenly aware of the social determinants of health—whether someone has access to housing, food, transportation, and education—and whether or not that impacts a person’s ability to be a healthy and a contributing member of society.

Because of this, nurses can propose and advocate legislation that is not based on politics but on evidence and the voices of individuals and communities.

Most recently, it has been a necessary and loud vote of support that many nurses are occupying positions in government. Examples like Congresswomen Lauren Underwood, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Cori Bush—or the appointment of Jane Hopkins to the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 advisory board and Susan Orsega as acting surgeon general—show nurses competence and qualification for leadership in the government. And we need more of them.

Put More Nurses in the Media

According to recent Gallup polls, America’s distrust of the media has grown exponentially, which is a significant problem during a global pandemic. We also know that even though nurses provide the bulk of care—with nearly three nurses per physician—they have only two percent of healthcare representation within the media.

As the most trusted profession, nurses are incredibly well suited to be a voice of honesty and reason for the American people backed by science, research, and evidence.
From the earliest beginnings of COVID-19, nurses have risked their lives, conducted testing, treated patients through PPE shortages, set up zoom calls with dying loved ones, and were the first-hand encounter with the patient experience. They have been privy to the physical, psychological, and mental response to a ravaging disease, and yet their presence in the media has not been prominent—in fact their visibility is low.

It’s not that the regular television and media contributors don’t have valid knowledge and expertise, but nurses deserve a bigger piece of the airwaves. In many cases, they are the single hands-on care provider and to overlook their stories is to do a great disservice to the people and populations they serve.

Even once the pandemic is a thought of the past, nurses will still remain the largest segment of the health workforce. Should they not account for at least more than two percent of healthcare representation in the media?

Let Nurses Serve as the Top Practitioners That They Actually Are

Unfortunately, mistrust of healthcare professionals is still alive and well and has serious implications for whether people believe information or even seek care in the first place. Nurses, who are trusted among individuals and communities, have a responsibility to their patients to be truthful, educated, and competent, and indeed they are. As such, they should be given the responsibility to practice at the top of their license without unnecessary oversight.

Even though it has been proven that nurse practitioners provide safe and effective high-quality care, many states still do not issue full practice authority for nurse practitioners. This means physician oversight is needed even while nurse practitioners have the knowledge, expertise, and training to diagnose, manage, and treat patients across the lifespan and continuum of care.

Especially during COVID-19, nurses have proved time and time again their necessity as well as their expertise fighting this pandemic. They have been innovative in employing care solutions and committed to patient care even though they lacked adequate resources, have been short staffed, and in many cases subject to war-like conditions with patients overflowing into the halls.

Above all, nursing education is now frequently at the master’s or doctoral level, which has transformed the profession’s leadership in developing evidence-based practices that improve patient outcomes and the healthcare system infrastructure.

Nurse practitioners should be granted full practice authority across the United States. They should be able to practice to their full scope and capability while at the same time remaining and keeping the line of trust open.

Nurses make people heard

Nurses are trusted because they advocate for the patient above all else. Nurses bring the voice of the underrepresented to the forefront.

Now more than ever, people want to be heard. Nurses have the expertise, education, training, and compassion to be that voice. It’s time to give them the platforms.

Authors:

Patricia Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN

Kimberly McIltrot, DNP, CPNP, CWOCN, CNE, FAANP, FAAN

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