2020 wasn't anything anyone expected it to be. It taught us that we should treasure our time with friends and made us look forward to traveling when it's safe again. It also pointed out many crises happening within the health care system and the heroes who braved the most dangerous days to help others.
These are the eight things we learned about health care workers in 2020 and what we can do with those lessons after the pandemic ends.
1. They Know How to Adapt
Hospitals always had a minor stock of personal protection equipment (PPE) for ICU cases and patients with compromised immune systems, but it was nothing compared to what they needed to battle COVID-19. Modifying and using the limited supply they got for the first few months of the pandemic demonstrated how health care workers are quick to adapt.
Hospital staff also modified waiting rooms into ICUs and converted ventilators into multiuse machines to help more people, even though it was still risky. Everyone had to adjust their jobs as the pandemic progressed, with little help from outside their specific hospital systems as the world turned upside down.
2. They Push Down Their Fears
Anyone who watched the early 2020 news cycle knows the fear of sitting on your couch, wondering if it was safe to go outside and breathe. Health care workers didn't have that luxury. They pushed down their fears and put their patients first, even when the disease was still relatively unknown.
Doctors and nurses put themselves second during intense situations every day, but going up against a new virus that quickly killed people after their initial infection required heroic bravery and selflessness.
3. They Work Through the Night
Night shifts aren't new, but they became more significant when health care workers had already pushed through 24-48 hour shifts. They slept infrequently so they were always ready when their patients' O2 levels dropped or they needed resuscitation.Working late at night puts hospital staff in dangerous situations even when there isn't a pandemic happening. They're more likely to endure dangerous patient encounters because of intoxicated individuals and criminal activity. Doing all that while layered in reused PPE put a renewed importance on their late-night work.
4. They Need Mental Health Care Access
Intense stress, fear and lack of self-care create the perfect storm for mental health challenges. Health care workers will experience PTSD symptoms after the pandemic if they don't already have them, so they need access to the right care. Most private insurance companies don't cover mental health services, which might keep some heroes away from the help they need.
5. They Have Supportive Loved Ones
Even hospital staff members who live alone have supportive friends and families who provided a critical lifeline during the pandemic's worst moments. They listened while their beloved vented about losing patients or cried from stress.
They also went for long periods without seeing their loved ones in person because so many health care professionals stayed in hotel rooms or backyard tents to prevent spreading COVID-19. The general public learned about how so many doctors and nurses had to lean on loved ones from afar, even when all they wanted to do was cry on their shoulders.
6. They Have a Loud Voice
Health care workers risked their lives to save patients or be by their side as they passed away. In return, many experienced unknown exposures to COVID-positive patients and inconsistent safety measures at work.
They came together to demand specific union protections, like fewer workplace hazards and including them in critical planning sessions. These heroes are quick to serve others, but we're learning they need help, too.
7. They Learn New Patient Care Quickly
Many health clinics and hospitals couldn't accept non-emergency cases during the worst waves of the pandemic. It put an added importance on tele-health programs, which weren't consistently available across the country.
Health professionals had to learn new software programs and virtual services nearly overnight. It revolutionized patient care and will likely remain a significant part of the health care industry after the pandemic ends.
8. They’re Selfless — But Still Human
Many of these lessons come down to one large one: Health care workers are selfless, but they're still human. They deserve proper funding to supply themselves with PPE, hospital equipment, virtual patient technology and extra staff members.
We needed them during one of the world's most dire moments, but no one should expect this kind of public service again without the essential support they need.