Health Advice



Nurses on pandemic front lines look to refill their 'empty cup'

Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

BALTIMORE -- Nurses gained attention during the pandemic for their work on the front lines of health care, taking on extra duties and patients and shouldering a lot more grief.

The unprecedented load shook morale and diminished their numbers — one in four nurse positions in Maryland hospitals is now vacant.

The nurses, as well as their administrators and educators, however, are not letting the moment pass without making some changes to better equip nurses physically and emotionally for the job. Some are seeking help from legislators and officials in Washington and Annapolis, but more are working within their own hospitals and schools.

“Nurses can’t keep pouring from an empty cup,” said Dawn Mueller-Burke, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Nursing who also works in the University of Maryland Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“We need to close the academic and practice gaps,” she said. “And that calls for doing a better job in a variety of areas.”

The nursing school has been changing the way it prepares nurses so students have a better understanding of the work and the tools they need, by focusing more on real-world scenarios, Mueller-Burke said.


Undergraduate students will adopt a new curriculum this fall that was developed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing that expands use of technology to simulate current experiences. Instead of technical proficiency, the emphasis will be on “competencies” to ensure nursing students understand how jobs are actually done.

“We want our students more immersed in the experiences,” Mueller-Burke said. “They can’t just be good at taking blood pressure. They need to be a good team member. They need to be taking care of themselves, too.”

Hospitals across the country have struggled with COVID-19 surges that have tested their limits. Cases are rising again, though hospitalizations remain relatively low in Maryland at about 200, compared with more than 3,400 at the January peak.

Officials say they expect more waves, adding to the normal caseload from heart attacks, injuries, and other emergencies and surgeries.


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