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Nursing during the pandemic: a Q & A

  • Published
  • By Ilka Cole

In honor of Nurses Week, the 96th Medical Group’s chief nurse executive, Col. Ronald Jones, provided insight into the nursing career field and what it was like nursing during a pandemic.

Q:  What is the mission of nurses at the 96th MDG?

A:  The mission of the nurses is to support the following 96th MDG missions:

  • Deploy mission-ready expeditionary medical teams
  • Deliver comprehensive health and readiness services
  • Drive innovation into medical education

Q: Has that changed since the start of the pandemic? If so, how?

A: The missions remain unchanged. However, how we execute missions shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mission execution shifted to integrate COVID-19 mitigation strategies in every mission set.  Along with the worldwide global health care deployments, critical care missions in the air and on the ground, both in garrison and abroad. The daily meetings and simply being in the same room changed to ensure we were preventing the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously enforcing safety standards across the 96th Test Wing.

Q: How have you stayed motivated and hopeful throughout the pandemic?

A: I remained motivated and hopeful because I know our medics, both nurses and technicians, know they have a job to do. From day one of the pandemic, we declared war on COVID-19. We understood we were now on the front lines. We had to shift our focus to wage a battle to save lives from a virus attack instead of a near-peer adversary attack as we all trained and deployed for over the last few decades.

The innovation of our intensive care unit nurses was awe-inspiring. The emergency department, clinic nurses, and the team's perseverance and dedication came together to keep our patients, fellow staff members, and warfighters safe from this new invisible enemy.

The goal was not just to survive the pandemic but to eliminate it. We continue to be at the tip of the spear in this pandemic environment in that we support the 96th TW and Team Eglin leaders to train and operate in this new environment. That is motivating too, and I am still proud to be a part of the fight.

Q: As the chief nurse, how have you motivated and encouraged our nurses throughout the pandemic?

A: A natural part of my duties as the Chief Nurse is to motivate and encourage our nurses. The senior medical technician and I provide mentoring sessions and encourage leadership opportunities to our nurse and technician staff. During the pandemic, this became easier. New natural-born leaders quickly and willingly rose to the occasion to develop new strategies and techniques needed for safe patient care. They encouraged other leaders to be innovative in their expertise to identify and fill new gaps.

Together, new teams formed to address the unique challenges we faced due to the pandemic. We became hyper-focused on safety and rose to the occasion.  Motivating our nursing staff was not a challenging task.

Q: What nursing lessons has the pandemic taught the nurse corps here?

A: The lessons learned from the pandemic were not just for the nurses. The entire medical team discovered and benefitted from the best treatments available to those who contracted COVID-19. This knowledge contributed to the ongoing research within the Air Force Medical Service and the Defense Health Agency Enterprise. And we continued to treat patients from different backgrounds, patients with pre-existing chronic health conditions, and patients of all ages. Nurse staffing was discussed and adjusted to maximize the patient-to-nurse ratio in every unit safely. The 96th MDG developed a contingency plan for expansion capabilities to maximize available beds if necessary.

Q: What were some of the challenges faced by our nurses as a result of the pandemic?

A: Staffing challenges became an issue. A large percentage of our nurses deployed locally to provide care in civilian hospitals.  We also deployed overseas while supporting our own surge of COVID-19 patients. We also walked through plans to prepare a solution if we would become overwhelmed with the need to store multiple deceased bodies.

Q: How did the nursing staff come together and or adjust to provide care in the new COVID environment? Were there any innovations as a result?

A: The entire nursing staff trained to safely provide advanced cardiac life support while minimizing both the exposure risk and minimized staff needed when responding to a room with a COVID-19 patient. We safely mitigated exposure risks in surgery, labor, and delivery. We applied proper personal protective equipment training from our operating room nurses, who are the experts in maintaining a sterile environment. We frequently used mock code blue scenarios while training, and we developed new evidence-based policies and procedures for the same.  These were all innovations developed as a result of battling COVID-19.

Q: Can you recall a rewarding patient experience that came from your efforts or the efforts of our nurses?

A: We had several moments over the last year we led the Air Force in positive cases of COVID-19 admissions.

We are incredibly proud of all the lessons we learned to successfully care for and discharge a COVID-19 patient on the ventilator and over 90 years old. The fact alone that he was a COVID-19 ventilator-dependent patient placed him at a higher risk than others for survival. His age placed him in a category of unlikely to survive. He survived. He still comes to our clinic for primary care and gives the nursing staff thanks for the excellent care and attention extended to him throughout his stay.

Q:  Is there anything you would like to add about your experience as a nurse during the COVID pandemic?

A:  We could not have asked for a better medical group leadership team to guide the wing and our medical service through this pandemic and daily operations. I am proud to be a part of this team.