One recent Friday night, we huddled with our colleagues in the pouring rain at a movie theater parking lot– our cars packed with supplies for our mobile vaccine clinic— trying to find someone who wanted an extra dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine before it expired. Five months ago, we would have been inundated with people desperate for that extra dose. But that has changed now that the most willing and able segments of the population have largely been vaccinated.
Amidst this backdrop of slowing vaccination rates in the U.S. and many miles to go before reaching all of those willing to be vaccinated, the CDC has released updated recommendations for mask wearing that we believe to be premature and contrary to the ethic and mindset of public health. Buoyed by mounting evidence supporting the effectiveness of vaccines, the CDC— cheered by the Biden administration— gave fully vaccinated Americans the green light to ditch their masks. As fully vaccinated public health nurses who are as excited as anyone about the vaccines’ real-world effectiveness, we nonetheless find ourselves again asking: what are they thinking?
To be clear, we do not question the evidence showing that all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the U.S. are safe and effective. We also crave good news, hope, and allowing the bottom half of our faces to see the light of day. We have also appreciated the Biden administration’s commitment to “following the [biomedical] science” in pandemic policymaking. Our concerns lie with the timing of the recommendation; the lack of regard for social science demonstrating the importance of public policy in influencing community norms and human behavior; and the blatant disregard for health equity. That the nation’s preeminent public health institution has fallen prey to the individualistic mindset that typifies American society, as CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated herself on Sunday regarding this “science-driven individual assessment” of risk, is frustrating, to say the least.
Currently, only one-third of the U.S. has been fully vaccinated. The news media has been full of accounts of many sub-groups who stubbornly defend their right to refuse a COVID vaccine, but the majority of those in the U.S. who remain unvaccinated belong to communities that have been unable to access a vaccine due to difficulty navigating online appointment scheduling, inability to take time off of work, poorly translated informational resources, or being ineligible due to age restrictions or other medical contraindications. Universal mask-wearing has been a critical stopgap measure to protect these at-risk populations until the majority of Americans are vaccinated. The CDC’s recommendation is therefore not only premature: it sends the message to individuals and other governmental entities alike that we don’t need to care about our neighbors.
In March of 2020, when we had limited knowledge on the infectivity and virulence of the virus that causes COVID-19, I joined a team of critical care nurses who were willing to risk their lives to care for those suffering from COVID-19. As a full-time PhD student in nursing, a new parent to my infant son, a primary caregiver to my 73-year-old mother, and as someone with a known history of severe asthma, I knew that I was embarking on a journey that could potentially cost me my professional and personal dreams and endanger those I care for the most in life: my family. My intentions to practice only part-time as a critical care nurse while pursuing full-time studies were halted after only two weeks of managing critically ill COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic. The countless code blues and unprecedented levels of patient deaths made it clear that we were in uncharted territory. After seeing the pain and fear on the faces of my nursing peers, I knew I could never leave them behind in this new battlefield. So, I stayed at bedside full-time for a year while also maintaining my full-time status as a PhD student. I had to. I could not turn my back on my practice oath, or my future professional goals as a nurse scientist. It is in this spirit that, on behalf of myself and my exhausted colleagues, I call on those with critical care experience who have stepped away from bedside to return, as they are able, and answer this same call to action.
The extent of the critical care nursing shortage we are currently experiencing is alarming to me and almost beyond my comprehension. This shortage has forced critical care nurses who have been at bedside since March of last year to remain at bedside even as several of us have reached the breaking point of psychological exhaustion. Our desperate outcry for backup from our fellow critical care nurse colleagues seems to have yielded no outcome. It is obvious that addressing this shortage would require a solution with immediate implementation as we do not have time for the training of more critical care nurses. Thus, an immediate call to all nurse anesthesia students to return to bedside should be a part of any strategy geared towards quickly addressing issues of this critical care nursing shortage.
At a time when the role of critical care registered nurses is most needed, several nurse anesthesia programs continue with their regular admission cycle protocol: pulling critical care nurses away from bedside. At my current hospital, we lost nearly a dozen critical care nurse colleagues to nurse anesthesia programs between March and May of 2020 at the peak of the pandemic. Since the nurse anesthesia program requirements stipulate a minimum of one year of critical care nursing experience, all program applicants possess highly specialized clinical skills needed for the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients. While there are unarguable reasons as to why some nurse anesthesia students have yet to answer this urgent call to duty, we as a profession, and as a society must do what we can to incentivize them to return to bedside to help relieve the suffering of patients and exhausted nurses who have fought tirelessly at the frontlines since the onset of the pandemic – many of whom have lost their lives as a result.
Shortly before our
world was turned upside down by COVID-19, I visited Space Center Houston with
my family. We marveled at the collective ambition and investment it took to
move from space travel being an aspirational dream to setting foot on the moon.
I thought about my favorite scene from the movie Apollo 13, when Gene Kranz
overhears the NASA Director saying “This could be the worst disaster NASA has
ever experienced,” and candidly replies, “With all due respect, sir, I believe
this is going to be our finest hour.”
Just months later, our entire planet is on a mission to turn tragedy into triumph. Only this time, Americans have not led the way in proactively translating science into action for the benefit of humankind. Instead, we ignored scientists who warned about the inevitability of a pandemic and now lead the world in most confirmed cases (which, due to our testing debacles, underestimates actual cases). As a public health nurse, this is not a race I want to see us leading. Future outbreaks are all but certain while we wait for a vaccine. Every single one of us must start preparing now, for we will all have a role to play.
To be sure, it
is imperative that we all stay the course with current physical distancing efforts
to prevent spread, minimize death, and avoid the collapse of our healthcare
system and its ability to care for patients with COVID-19 and other life-threatening
conditions that do not pause just because of a pandemic. But social distancing
cannot be the only public health tool used to bring the pandemic under
Public health experts agree we need a coordinated national public health surveillance strategy that includes widespread testing in order to identify and isolate infected people early (this is crucial given how many contagious people are asymptomatic), contact tracing to figure out who has been exposed to infected individuals, and quarantining everyone who tests positive or has come in contact with an infected person. We must leverage technology to ensure testing provides fast and accurate results, and that we are able to safely and comprehensively track exposures. Without accurate, detailed, and timely data about the epidemiology of COVID-19, we cannot make scientifically sound decisions about how to ease social distancing or ethical decisions about how to equitably allocate scarce healthcare resources to communities of greatest need.
The World Health Organization has named 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. However, most Americans have never experienced a midwife’s care. In my over 30 years working in maternal-child health, I’ve heard plenty of reasons why. Families are understandably nervous about that with which they are unfamiliar, and nervous about pregnancy and birth in general, with good reason. The cesarean birth rate in the US has more than quadrupled since the early 1970’s, yet we aren’t seeing healthier mothers and babies as a result. In fact, compared to the prior generation, women in this country are 50% more likely to die in childbirth, and for women of color (particularly black women) that risk is three to four times higher than white women, regardless of the woman’s education level or socioeconomic status. For those expecting a baby in the new year, let me set the record straight about midwifery care.
Today’s certified nurse-midwives (CNM) and certified midwives (CM) have earned a minimum of a Master’s degree, as well as have passed a rigorous certification exam. A third category, certified professional midwives, are not required to have an academic degree, but they must also must pass a certification exam “based on demonstrated competency in specified areas of knowledge and skills.” Midwives are intensely educated both in normal, as well as in complications of, pregnancy and childbirth, and are well-prepared to address emergencies as they arise.
Midwives generally care for women with low-risk pregnancies; however, most pregnancies arelow-risk. And in those instances when a patient’s pregnancy or birth becomes high-risk, the midwife collaborates with physician colleagues to provide comprehensive team care to result in the best outcome for mother and baby.
Forced absence from gun violence has created a literal and metaphorical void in schools across our country that may impact students and staff for decades to come. The students are referred to as “Parkland kids,” “Sandy Hook students,” or “Columbine survivors.” These labels are sadly reflective of a new reality for American schools, as students, teachers, and staff no longer feel safe. America’s students feel vulnerable as the facade of schools as a safe place is no longer true. The Center for American Progress recent report revealed that 57% of teenagers now fear a school shooting.
Often, perpetrators of gun violence leave a trail of “red flags” for years, as they are troubled youths. This was the case in the Parkland shooting. Tragically, multiple agencies failed to respond to the signs the troubled young man was leaving, including specifically writing online that he aspired and planned to be a school shooter.
In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida tragedy, parents and school districts turned to security experts demanding a plan of action. Sadly, the information provided was substandard and lacked evidence to support the strategies as efficacious. Lives weigh in the balance and there is no more tolerance for guessing.
Research is needed to guide the creation of evidence-based frameworks for school communities to address prevention as well as protection. Threat assessment teams are a strategy to assess for potential threats, but more importantly is that an intrinsic safety network is woven into the fabric of the educational system. Exposing the root cause of the contagion of violence impacting our youth is key.
Today on Episode 58 of Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I have more to share from Exponential Medicine, but this time we’re at the Health Innovation Lab checking out all of the startups. In this episode, Jess and I talk to Meghan Conroy from CaptureProof about decoupling medical care from time and location, Care Angel‘s Wolf Shlagman about the world’s first AI and voice powered virtual nursing assistant, and highlight Humm’s brain band which improves working memory, concentration, and visual attention. We leave you with some parting words from Godfrey Nazareth: “Let’s set the world on fire. Let’s change the world, with love.” -Matthew Holt
American anesthesiology reached a significant milestone last year, though many of us probably missed it at the time.
In February, 2014, the number of nurse anesthetists in the United States for the first time exceeded the number of physician anesthesiologists. Not only are there more nurses than physicians in the field of anesthesia today, the number of nurses entering the field is growing at a faster rate than the number of physicians. Since December, 2012, the number of nurse anesthetists has grown by 12.1 percent compared to 5.8 percent for physician anesthesiologists.
The numbers—about 46,600 nurse anesthetists and 45,700 physician anesthesiologists—reported in the National Provider Identifier (NPI) dataset for January, 2015, probably understate the growing disparity. Today, more and more physicians are leaving the front lines of medicine, many obtaining additional qualifications such as MBA degrees and embarking on new careers in hospital administration or business.
Physician anesthesiologists can expect that fewer of us every year will continue to work in the model of personally providing anesthesia care to individual patients. Clinical practice is likely to skew even more toward the anesthesia care team model, already dominant in every part of the US except the west coast, with supervision of nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologist assistants.
No one wants a hospital-acquired infection—a wound infection, a central line infection, or any other kind. But today, the level of concern in American hospitals about infection rates has reached a new peak—better termed paranoia than legitimate concern.
The fear of infection is leading to the arbitrary institution of brand new rules. These aren’t based on scientific research involving controlled studies. As far as I can tell, these new rules are made up by people who are under pressure to create the appearance that action is being taken.
Here’s an example. An edict just came down in one big-city hospital that all scrub tops must be tucked into scrub pants. The “Association of periOperative Registered Nurses” (AORN) apparently thinks that this is more hygienic because stray skin cells may be less likely to escape, though there is no data proving that surgical infection rates will decrease as a result. Surgeons, anesthesiologists, and OR nurses are confused, amused, and annoyed in varying degrees. Some are paying attention to the new rule, and many others are ignoring it. One OR supervisor stopped an experienced nurse and told to tuck in her scrub top while she was running to get supplies for an emergency aortic repair, raising (in my mind at least) a question of misplaced priorities.
A rash could be leukemia or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. A sore throat could be glossopharyngeal neuralgia or a retropharyngeal abscess. A blocked ear could be Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, a self-limited serous otitis or sudden sensorineural hearing loss with an abysmal prognosis if not treated immediately with high doses of steroids. A headache or sinus pain could be cancer, and a cough could be a pulmonary embolus or heart failure.
Treating the Well:
In my early career in Sweden, well child visits were done in nurse-led clinics, some of them only open on certain days, with a local doctor in attendance. Parents carried the children’s records with them, containing growth charts, immunization records and so on.
These nurses had great expertise in differentiating normal from abnormal appearance of children, and would direct the attending physician’s attention to children with abnormal metrics, appearance or behavior.
With this arrangement, the physician time requirement was reduced, and limited to evaluating children attending the clinics who needed special attention. Physicians also performed specific examinations at certain ages, such as checking for hip clicks. These clinics freed up the local pediatricians to evaluate more sick children.
Well-baby visits are now the bread and butter of American pediatricians and family practitioners, and with the ever expanding mandates of politically determined items that must be covered in order for doctors to get paid for their services, we sometimes have trouble accommodating illness care demands.
A group of nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian has come forward with a very different picture of what happened when Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Duncan arrived at the hospital with Ebola-like symptoms on September 28th. If true, the allegations are certainly unsettling.
In an unusual move, the nurses spoke anonymously to the media, conducting a blind conference call in which none of the participants were identified.
After arriving at the emergency room with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease , the nurses said the patient was kept in a public area, despite the fact that he and a relative informed staff that he had been instructed to go to the hospital after contacting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to report a possible case of Ebola.