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International Nurse’s Day: Coping with COVID-19 (USA)

Published: 12.05.2020

I have been a nurse for over 40 years, with thirtysomething of those being in ophthalmic nursing.  Currently, I serve as the nurse in a busy ophthalmic clinic with 2 ophthalmologists and 2 optometrists, and serve as the nursing director of our ophthalmic ASC.  In one way, my education and nursing experiences have prepared me to manage the multiple challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, in another way, nothing in my education nor my experiences has prepared me to maneuver through this global pandemic of epic proportions. It is safe to say that COVID-19 has challenged almost every aspect of our nursing practices. 

Today more than ever, nurses play a critical role, as we are the lifeblood of the healthcare system pure and simple.  For example, in my clinic setting, because we continue to care for urgent and emergency patients, processes were developed to keep patients, staff, and families safe during the pandemic.  These include the following: 

  • Automated reminder calls were discontinued with staff now calling patients to cancel routine appointments, reschedule urgent appointments, and answer patient questions. 
  • Prescreening patient phone calls asking about respiratory illness/shortness of breath/travel to high risk areas/contact with a COVID-19 positive person, etc. are made.   Patients are asked to wear a mask and limit visitors to one person. 
  • Screening is done for all employees upon entering the facility, and masks are worn. 
  • Signage on the outside door asks sick or exposed patients to call and reschedule if appropriate. 
  • At check-in patients are greeted warmly but handshakes and hugs are omitted.  The same screening questions are asked again, with temperatures taken with a laser (non-contact) thermometer.  Any positive response is referred to the nurse for additional review. 
  • A 6 foot personal space was created in the waiting room, with chairs cleaned after use. 
  • Strict environmental cleaning protocols are adhered to, in reception areas and exam rooms.  Breath shields have been placed on all slit lamps. 
  • PPE is readily available for all staff, with complete PPE kits if needed. 
  • Upon discharge from the clinic, patients are encouraged to stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy. 

It was difficult as the nursing director of our ASC, to tell my staff that we were not able to perform elective surgeries, which are the majority of our procedures. Nine nursing staff members would be furloughed, until further notice.  Currently, I have over 150 patients waiting to be rescheduled for surgeries, the majority being cataract surgery. Our last surgery was performed over two months ago.  As we address facility readiness for our ASC to resume elective surgeries, the same principles and considerations utilized in the clinic to provide safe, competent, compassionate care will be utilized.  

The year of 2020 has been designated by The World Health Organization as “The Year of the Nurse”.  May is also when we celebrate the International Nurse’s Day, which falls during the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.  Although dealing with COVID-19 was not our nursing vision for 2020, this pandemic has certainly highlighted the tremendous nursing contributions to healthcare.  Nurses continue to be the most trusted profession year after year.  Our dedication to patient care, resilience, strength, flexibility, critical thinking and problem solving skills will help us to manage the challenges of COVID-19.  As ophthalmic nurses, we understand that we are in this together.  And together we will emerge stronger and incorporate lessons learned into our nursing practices.   

 Stay safe; stay strong; and stay healthy. 


Debbie Ehlers, MSN, BSN, RN 

ASORN Past President 

The Eye Center 

3403 Powerhouse Road 

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