In 2020, the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) decided to honor Florence Nightingale — who would have celebrated her 200th birthday on May 12, 2020 — with the theme “Year of the Nurse.”

Unfortunately, by May of 2020 we were in the midst of a pandemic and so many of our celebrations and recognitions could not happen. Not to be deterred though, the ANA extended 2020’s theme into 2021, highlighting all that nurses have done and will continue to do to care for our patients, community and family post-pandemic and into the future.

So what is the difference between an epidemic and pandemic? Outbreaks concentrated in one area are considered an epidemic, while a pandemic is an outbreak across several countries and affects a larger population. There have been several pandemics over the last 30 years – Hong Kong flu (1968-1969); HIV/AIDS (1981-present); Swine Flu (2009-2010); and most recently, COVID-19 (2020 – ?).

I remember caring for the first HIV patient at the facility where I worked as a nurse at the time. Prior to the HIV virus, we would start IVs and give injections without the use of gloves; we didn’t have safety needles and/or special sharps containers, nor did we know about personal protective equipment (PPE), other than when needed for a sterile procedure. As a result of what we learned with the HIV pandemic, we learned very quickly what Universal Precautions meant – handwashing; wearing gloves for all patient care; use of appropriate PPE; safety needles and sharps containers that we couldn’t put our hand in to prevent needle sticks. One virus made a huge difference in the ongoing safety of patients and staff.

I believe COVID-19 will be no different. We have learned so much over this past year that many of the future changes we implement in healthcare will be the result of how we navigated and what we learned during our current pandemic. One thing that we have today that we have available back in the 1980s is social media and its influence on others during times like these, as well as the different mandates and changes to work environments that we have today, like wearing a mask, remote learning, Zoom meetings, social distancing, and more.

As we celebrate the “Year of the Nurse,” I am very proud of the great work that the nurses at Iredell Health System have provided for our families, patients and community. They have tirelessly given of their talents and time to ensure that their children were taken care of and maintained their school work; worked long, hot (PPE is not air conditioned) hours and days to ensure that all of our patients — those with COVID-19 and those without it — were well cared for; they have celebrated through “Code Sunshine” our COVID-19 patients that were able to go home, and cried with families (even remotely) when patients did not get well. Additionally, they have supported vaccination efforts to ensure that our community can be protected today and in the future. They have done all of this while listening to social and news media chatter and trying very hard to separate fact from fiction so they can educate patients, families and our community throughout these efforts.

While we celebrate National Nurses Week May 6-12, please take time to thank all of our nurses for their ongoing commitment and dedication to caring for our patients and community with compassion, respect, integrity and collaboration. They are always striving to ensure that the care they deliver helps to fulfil our vision of “guiding our neighbors to optimal health.”

Happy Nurses Week!

Becky Wagner is Vice President of Nursing and Patient Care for Iredell Health System.

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