Crisis Management: Utilization of New Registered Nurses to Meet Healthcare Demands During COVID-19 Outbreak

Submitted by Samara Gassman, BS, RN

Tags: coronavirus COVID-19 healthcare system

Crisis Management: Utilization of New Registered Nurses to Meet Healthcare Demands During COVID-19 Outbreak

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During the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare institutions are forced to enter into crisis management mode as demands on our healthcare system increase. While there are many nurses and healthcare professionals on the frontlines of this pandemic, the growing needs of the public may soon overwhelm our healthcare system. Could the best way to ease the current burden be new graduate registered nurses? 

While newly registered nurses met the requirements for licensure, there is also a concern that presents itself at this moment in time: are new graduate registered nurses prepared to enter the system during a pandemic? 

Talya Gassman, registered nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical Center shared, “I don’t think anybody is prepared regardless of their experience level.” No matter how many years of experience, personnel need to take time to review protocols and adequately prepare for whatever comes their way. Talya added, “Learning to work in difficult situations prepares you for hard and easy times.” By allowing new RNs to enter the field during an emergency, they will be better equipped for future situations by instilling prioritization, resource and time management, effective communication and efficient collaboration. Christin Blake, newly registered nurse stated, “I think new graduates are extremely eager and ready to get working wherever they are needed.” New RNs are an enthusiastic and motivated group of individuals, who are not afraid to take on the various challenges in healthcare. Paul Chresomales, new graduate nurse shared, “while most of the world is going into quarantine to feel safe, these people are coming forward to help those that are sick.” As nurses, we signed up for the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, we are facing a healthcare crisis that is frightening to our patients and the public, as we are navigating through uncharted waters. Nurses are meant to serve as a calming force for our patients and as new RNs, we have been trained in therapeutic communication which we use daily.

Many are finding it difficult to keep up with the increase of false information, leading to spreading myths and growing hysteria. Disseminating truthful and realistic information as well as providing ways to navigate these hectic times is critical to success. New RNs bring their tech-savvy expertise and social media influence that can help relay accurate and concise information to the public. Amber Heikens, newly registered nurse shared, “There is, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation out there, especially with such a variety of media sources. It is so important to not only be educated about accurate sources of information but to direct our patients and their family members to them. As nurses, a crucial aspect of our scope of practice is to educate and with this virus, the more qualified educators out there the better.” 

Hospital administrators have voiced their concerns about the minimal on-the-job experience new RNs have. Dylan Watson, newly registered nurse stated, “I think we’re prepared to help out.” Dylan recently began his career 2 weeks ago at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he received a 1-day COVID-19 training. “At my hospital, we have a pretty strict protocol on how to deal with the patients… We are able to pull up the protocol in EPIC and it tells us what to do, such as labs, and who to call/when.” Tasks, especially during an outbreak, are viewed as a series of steps in order to ensure every item is carried out, from first noticing signs and symptoms through the care that follows, to best serve the patient and following institutional guidelines. New RNs have been trained through their formal education and countless hours of clinical rotations to follow protocols and procedures, in a step-by-step fashion. Manuela Riguad, newly registered nurse shared, “we could decrease the workload currently being taken on by our colleagues. It’s frustrating to watch on the sideline and not be able to do anything - especially when we have the proper training to do so.”

Healthcare institutions must be strategic. Optimization of the vast number of new RNs is an untapped market of healthcare professionals the institutions would benefit from. Karen Leeman, a Nurse Practitioner at St. Francis Hospital - Catholic Health Services stated, “Most new nurses start on the floor and many COVID cases in the hospital end up in critical care, vented so it could potentially be beneficial so that the floors are not short and the float nurses can go to the ER.” Having new RNs working on units with more stable patients enables the more experienced nurses to focus their attention in areas where additional skills, experience, and resources are needed. Karen added, “I also think it depends on the situation… if that particular hospital is being inundated with COVID cases… then possibly no… I think [it] would be very much dependent on the situation and also how they orient new grads.” Deanna Valdinoto, newly registered nurse, also believes “it’s a case by case scenario.” While many new graduate nurses “may need longer to figure things out,” Deanna added, “new registered nurses would be better than a shortage.” The nurses currently on the frontlines are working in overdrive and taking extra precautions, however, the overwhelming demands placed on these individuals may become problematic in the weeks to come.

Anthony Kostelnak, newly registered nurse, stated, “I think new grad RNs can be utilized to help fill the void when there are not enough experienced RNs to run the show. If we do not fall back on our graduates, and our hospitals are understaffed, there will certainly be an unsafe work environment for both patients and clinicians -- thus, it only makes sense to find sensible tasks for our new graduate RNs to perform during a crisis like this.” New RNs are assets that should be deployed in a variety of healthcare settings outside of hospitals, including but not limited to screening centers, subacute care facilities and triage, where demands will grow in the upcoming weeks, due to hospital overflow or patients seeking healthcare needs outside the hospital. Carol Wetherbee, BSN, MA, Home Care Consultant shared, “Nurses will be mobilized from all settings.” Carol believes as the surge occurs, healthcare organizations will need to reevaluate their nursing staff availability, which includes how many hours they have worked as well as the need to be quarantined due to sickness or possible exposure. This reevaluation will lead to a need for additional nurses in the field, therefore opportunities will present themselves to new RNs. Madison Kammerer, newly registered nurse shared, “Nurses aim to act in the best interest of the public, no matter the circumstance. As a new graduate nurse, I feel a responsibility to provide care in any way and in any setting that is needed during this time. My education has equipped me with the ability to adapt and learn quickly. As the rest of the world takes a step back, I am ready to take a step forward with fellow healthcare professionals.”

Proactive planning is the fundamental measure needed to successfully navigate through a crisis. Through assessing risk, identifying contingencies and building plans, institutions will be able to adequately plan and ensure resources at hand are being maximized. As a newly registered nurse, I have graduated from a rigorous Bachelor of Science nursing program, completed countless clinical hours and successfully passed the NCLEX-RN. As many of my fellow new RNs have shared, we have met the competencies required to provide safe patient-centered care. No matter what industry, when starting any new position there will always be an adjustment period, however as the matter grows more urgent, this is the time to start maximizing and deploying the available resources. Ultimately, healthcare facilities must do what is in the best interest of their patients and employees. While there may be some doubt calling upon newly registered nurses at this time, employing new registered nurses is a strategic and advantageous move to help ease the burden COVID-19 has forced on the healthcare system and create nurse leaders that are prepared for the future.