Why 2020 Is the Year of the Nurse

Nurse practitioner examining a female patient
Nurse practitioner examining a female patient

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In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 2020 would be the Year of the Nurse. No one had any idea how foretelling that declaration was.

Global health officials detected an outbreak comparable to pneumonia in December 2019. But it wasn’t until March 2020 that WHO would declare COVID-19 an international pandemic due to its breakneck contagion.

Nurses worldwide rose to meet the challenge of the disease. The world quickly lauded them heroes who were making an enormous impact in their cities. Not only their nursing care, but also their resilience, determination, and innovation have saved and enriched countless lives in recent months. Many nurses have stepped up to advance their knowledge through online degree programs

Despite the overwhelming odds of a surprise pandemic, the achievements and voices of nurses have been strong in the year of the nurse. “No one would ever say that being a nurse is easy,” one nurse observed in an interview during the pandemic. “But I can say that it’s incredibly rewarding. I’m . . . grateful that we found our calling.”


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The Original Plan for the Year of the Nurse

Even before COVID-19 gained a global foothold, 2020 already held compelling characteristics as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife:

  •  2020 is the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale.
  • In 2020, nurses make up the majority of the worldwide health force. As of 2018 in the U.S., there were over three million registered nurses practicing. A total of 290,000 nurse practitioners currently practice in the U.S.
  •  2020 was the first year to release the State of the World’s Nursing Report, describing the global nursing workforce.

Nursing accounts for 59% of all health professionals in the Year of the Nurse, but the healthcare field needs more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth in the coming years to be 12% for registered nurses. The growth will be 28% for nurse practitioners, whose contributions are countering the growing need for primary care providers.

WHO chose the Year of the Nurse because they wanted to spotlight that nurses are the “bridge” of healthcare. Nurses serve as an indispensable link between people and a complex healthcare system. But as the American Hospital Association stated, WHO “had no idea a pandemic would envelop the world the same year.”

COVID-19 in the Year of the Nurse

As the CDC said of the Year of the Nurse designation, “None of us could have anticipated how prescient that would be.” The medical community watched with alarm the steep trajectory in the rise of COVID-19 in the early part of the year. The year of the nurse took on an entirely new significance as nurses sacrificed and served beyond what they normally do.

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have provided triage in emergency rooms and screened seemingly endless lines of worried patients at testing sites. They have implemented surge capacity strategies, protected at-risk patients, and adopted countless new protocols—all while providing compassionate care.

The president of the International Council of Nurses articulated what was happening. “In this year of the nurse . . . the eyes of the world are on our profession in a way that we could not have imagined.” She went on to observe, “This . . . pandemic is revealing the irreplaceable work of nursing for all to see.”

Determined nurses have rallied courageously in the face of the virus. In the year of the nurse, they have often worked back-to-back shifts and have saved countless lives. Thanks in large part to their dedicated work, the recovery rate is between 97% and 99.75%. 

Pandemic Challenges in the Year of the Nurse

Because COVID-19 was new, many governments and health communities were caught off guard. WHO recently highlighted some of the results of the lack of preparedness. They include an “alarming failure” in the global supply of PPE and COVID-19 tests and “unprecedented” overwork.

In extreme cases around the world, the COVID-19 virus has been lethal for doctors and nurses.

Even with the surprise of COVID-19, nurses are rising to an unprecedented global test. Here are some highlights of what the nursing community is facing and creative ways they are overcoming the odds:

Dealing with Cuts in Pay

As nurses have risked their lives, some nations around the world, including Canada and Ghana, have offered increased pay. In the U.S., though the media and politicians have repeatedly praised nurses as heroes, many have no hazard pay. And in some cases, hospitals have asked nurses to work with reduced pay as hospitals suffer economic losses due to COVID-19.

The legislative direction in many states to cut elective procedures has left some hospitals and medical practices with lower income. One Massachusetts physician group notes that patient volume was down 75% in April. As a result, many nurses were given the option of moving from full-time to part-time or to begin collecting unemployment.

Still, nurses have persevered in providing life-saving care and servant leadership. Many have traveled to COVID-19 hotspots to help. Others have moved from non-urgent areas of hospitals and care clinics to those where nurses are urgently needed.

Overcoming Staffing Concerns

As the patient number has swelled, so have nurses’ efforts to counter staffing issues. In New York alone, 10,000 retired doctors and nurses volunteered in a single day, asking the state to ease license reinstatement regulations.

Nurses have also shown flexibility in moving to different departments, as have hospitals. “People are going to have to be creative about what types of nurses are caring for which patients at any given time,” one health director stated.

Another way that the medical community and nurses have learned to adapt to the crisis is by adjusting licensing across state lines. One doctor articulated the need to “make sure . . . we can get people on the ground where they’re needed.” Nurses have stepped up to the plate in crossing states and crossing to ICU and emergency rooms.

Managing Long Shifts

Nurses’ work has always required them to be fully engaged. But COVID-19 has shifted that work into hyperdrive.

One nurse noted, “If it’s a very busy night, I don’t eat or drink for 10 hours.” With colleagues out sick and mounting patient cases, nurses are working around the clock in arduous conditions.

The world knows it. The UN chief exclaimed, “We are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you. You work, round the clock, putting yourselves at risk, to fight the ravages of this pandemic.”

Nurses face the long hours with fortitude. “This is my calling. This is what I’ve chosen to do with my life,” another notes.

Additionally, numerous older nurses would be staying home altogether to prevent exposure were they not needed so desperately in the healthcare workforce. The Journal of the American Medical Association notes how reassuring it is that so many older nurses and doctors have taken shifts. “These clinicians have decades worth of knowledge, experience, and relationships that will be needed now more than ever.”

Facing Risks, Including Exposure to COVID-19

The constant drumbeat in the back of any frontline healthcare worker’s mind is exposure. One New York City hospital doctor called his hospital where 200 workers had contracted COVID-19 “a petri dish.”

In a March 2020 survey, just 63% of nurses had N95 respirators in their units. Only 30% said their employers had enough PPE stocked.

They’ve also dealt with the fear of bringing the virus home and have isolated themselves from their loved ones for extended periods. One charge nurse notes, “My husband and I decided I would move out for the safety of my family. . . It’s very lonely.”

But despite the conditions and danger of exposure, nurses show up day after day, even volunteering for extra time and traveling when needed.

Stethoscope in front of blue globe

Learning to Pivot in an Extraordinary Year

In the face of the extraordinary global pandemic, nurses have shown their resilient spirits, adapting to sweeping change efficiently.

One such change is the widely shifting medical protocols, including using homemade masks donated by volunteers. Nurses have further adjusted to new CDC strategies for infection control and respirator conservation.

Some nurse practitioners are embracing new responsibilities. With the physician shortage, many states have removed restrictions on advanced practice nurses, enabling them to meet a growing need. “This is a time when we need for clinicians to practice to the full extent of their licenses,” declared the AANP president.

Another constructive change has been embracing remote patient visits, also known as telehealth or telemedicine. Many nurses and nurse practitioners have quickly switched to seeing virtual patients. The AAPN has created a video to enable nurse practitioners to “hit the ground running” with telehealth.

The Innovation of Nurses in the Year of the Nurse

Embracing change is part of life in COVID-19, for no one more so than a nurse. Here are a few ways nurses have not only provided steadied care but surpassed all expectations in a crisis.

Connecting with Patients in the Year of the Nurse

For nurses who are fortunate enough to have adequate PPE, an N95 mask, gloves, and plastic face shield are ideal for safety. But dealing with the massive amounts of PPE makes communicating with patients difficult.

One nurse has found a simple way to put patients at ease. She holds up a smiling picture of herself without a mask when she meets a patient. She observes, “Patients . . . comment about how nice it is . . . to know who is talking to them.”

She remarked, “Innovation is part of who we are. Nurses naturally . . . prioritize what they can do to make a difference.”

Another team of nurses helped develop a clear, medically viable protective mask. They fast-tracked the normal 6-12 months of medical device design. The patent was pending in just four weeks.

“Nurses are closest to patients at the bedside,” one nurse reflected. “They understand the value of . . . clear plastic so patients can see your words and smile.”

Pioneering Inventions in the Year of the Nurse

Nurses can come up with ideas that are simple but meet a great need. Another nurse developed medical code cards to save time and help get messages to fellow nurses quickly.

Through glass ICU doors, the laminated cards communicate instantly and keep staff safe. She commented, “They have called 2020 the ‘Year of the Nurse,’ and I say we have definitely proven this true.”

Still others have pioneered clever workarounds. In the absence of adequate PPE, one nurse developed a plastic face shield with anti-fog material using a laser cutter.

Other nurses have pioneered ways to distribute PPE where it is short supply. Others volunteer on patient phone helplines to relieve stress on hospitals.

Revealing Spirit in the Year of the Nurse

The new normal is understandably dispiriting for many people, including nurses. But their outlook is proactive and optimistic. Their faith has come to the forefront.

In speaking about these unique times, one nurse reflected, “I’m really a . . . God-fearing man, so I’ve really leaned on my faith. I am honored to be on the front lines, fighting for those who are unable to fight.”

Still others are incredibly positive about their current circumstances. “Living through the pandemic . . . ramps up the idea of why you went to [nursing] school. [We’re] learning how to make changes and be a part of science in a way most people never get the chance to,” one Chicago nurse notes.

The Year of the Nurse in 2020 has been extraordinary, displaying nurses’ sacrifices and strength to the world. “Being a nurse during this pandemic. . . . makes me proud to be a nurse,” one nurse notes.

The goal of the WHO Year of the Nurse designation was “to raise the status and profile of nurses and midwives.” As a global medical crisis, COVID-19 did that on an expansive scale.

Nursing students studying in a classroom

Your Next Step in Nursing Leadership

Advanced practice nurses are not only fighting COVID-19 in the Year of the Nurse, but they are also relieving the growing shortage of primary care physicians. Are you ready to make a larger change by working toward a leadership role in nursing?

Marymount University offers a robust education rooted in the Catholic tradition where intellectual curiosity and ethical servant leadership have been practiced since 1950. Our latest statistics - 100% of our students passed their FNP exam on the first attempt - speak to the program’s excellence. There is no GMAT/GRE required, and Marymount is CCNE-accredited. 

You became a nurse because you care. Get an online post baccalaureate MSN-FNP or post baccalaureate DNP-FNP from Marymount University where professors nurture and further develop the emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of today’s nurse.

Join the growing body of professional nurses making a difference.


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