Health Advice



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

Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

State leaders have instituted a number of efforts in Maryland to boost the workforce during the pandemic, including allowing out-of-state and retired nurses to practice. Temp and travel nurse agencies also have filled open shifts. Schools have sought to boost enrollment, though they have faced instructor shortages.

In Maryland, there are about a dozen community colleges and universities with nursing programs, including at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University.

Nurses have supported legislation to address shortfalls. A bill that passed the recently ended General Assembly session will provide tax breaks for nurse preceptors, who supervise student nurses during their clinical rotations. It also establishes panels to study expanding the state apprenticeship programs to the health care workforce and incentivizing nurses to practice in underserved areas through a loan repayment program and other means.

On Thursday, thousands of nurses from around the country are expected to march in Washington to call attention to the needs and push for legislation. That includes bills to stop corporations from excessively charging for travel nurses to fill workforce gaps. There also is a push for some protections for health care workers from harassment or assault, which jumped during the pandemic.

Another push is to limit how many patients nurses have to care for at once, said Veronica Marshall, an Alabama nurse organizing the march.

“There is a physical and emotional toll this pandemic has taken on the nursing profession,” she said. “We want the public to understand we need support if health care is to be there when they need it.”

The University of Maryland’s Mueller-Burke said her pandemic experiences changed how she thought about preparing new nurses for what they will witness and experience.


Even with her years of experience and training, she said was less prepared for COVID-related deaths than some colleagues in the emergency department. She cited a day in the neonatal intensive care unit when she was talking via Zoom to a new mother who was isolating with the virus. The mom suddenly labored to breathe, and Mueller-Burke watched as medical staff tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to save her.

“It resonated with me; we really didn’t have competence or readiness even for the Zoom calls,” she said. “I was totally unprepared for that.”

The Maryland nursing school has adjusted for that. And it has taken another step to give students specific, hands-on experience through a program called Practicum to Practice. It places students in hospital departments where they eventually will be hired to give them the most real-world experience possible.

Nursing student John Vincent Adofina said he “got to test the waters” before he graduates this spring and starts work at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

After spending time in virtual class due to the pandemic, he was glad for the on-the-ground training in an emergency department that gets many of the region’s worst traumas. He got to know patients “on one of the lowest points of their lives” and the rhythm of the place. Not only will he feel more confident and ready on his first day, but he said he’ll be a better teammate.

“My work ethic is strong and I’m very motivated and willing to learn, and in Shock Trauma I learn something new every day and that will prevent me from experiencing burnout,” he said. “Whatever they ask of me, I’ll give them.”

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