A former nurse, Melita J. Jordan, MSN, APRN C, CPM, is a dedicated public health administrator with nearly two decades of experience leading large-scale disease prevention and management efforts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

We had the opportunity to get her professional perspective on COVID, nursing and diversity & inclusion.

Read on to hear what she had to say in this edited transcript of our conversation. Thank you, Melita, for sharing your knowledge with us.

HealthcareSource: COVID has had a lot of impact on nursing. What are the big ones from your perspective?

Jordan: It’s sobering when you see and think about the number of deaths of those on the front lines — especially nurses and other healthcare professionals — as a result of caring for their fellow man.

Nurses were the first and remain an effective defense against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (COVID-19). Nurses sprang into action leaving their families and communities for weeks and months at a time to travel across the country to assist other nurses and healthcare providers at hospitals, nursing home facilities in addition to standing up COVID testing sites during the height of the pandemic. The nursing profession has been responsible for some of the most important contributions to science, patient care and public health.

Nurses make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, are the most trusted members of the healthcare team responsible for communicating with and educating patients and families. As the pandemic surge across the country, nurses will be called upon to inform, educate and vaccinate individuals, families and communities. The pandemic has highlighted that we are trusted members of the community who are called upon to inform, educate, vaccinate and plan the implementation of COVID care.

How can we prepare for the rise of new variants and future spikes in the pandemic?

Jordan: The healthcare community hasn’t learned our lessons yet about being truly prepared for what’s next. President Biden put together a COVID task force, but to date there is no nurse on it. [There is a nurse on the President’s recently formed COVID-19 health equity task force.] We must be seated in boardrooms, advisory committees and task forces where healthcare is on the agenda. Nurses drive the conversations on efficiency, equity, cost-effectiveness and patient care, but are not at the policy table where decisions are being made about how to bring the curve down.

We still need to know how to mobilize, collaborate between organizations and agencies, and access the equipment we need. How do we make sure individuals living in rural areas with chronic disease or disabilities get services when brick and mortar facilities have been destroyed? How do we safely shelter people during a pandemic to avoid mass infection? How do we screen in that environment? We know we need to do the pre-planning and leaders are now starting to see that nurses need to be at the table to lend their voice to plans, policies and procedures being developed.

Learn more about preparing your hospital or senior living facility for a healthcare crisis.

HealthcareSource: It’s quite an emotional ride.

Jordan: Taking care of nurses’ emotional and mental health is critical. We can’t care for others if our cup is empty. We are familiar with death, but not at this magnitude: every day and almost every moment within your shift.

That takes a toll on your psychological and physical wellbeing. And we’ve got to support nurses with more than breaks so they can de-stress and communicate their feelings. Do we have enough faith leaders and counselors within our institutions 24/7 to provide emotional support to our healthcare professionals? Do we have resources to offer on-site support through meditation, yoga, massage, music therapy? Can we develop safe places within healthcare systems and communities to get away from the crisis safely so nurses can release the emotional stress, trauma and feelings of grief? We shouldn’t have to heal ourselves.

See our advice for helping team members cultivate a positive outlook.

HealthcareSource: How should healthcare organizations evolve their recruiting and retention efforts after a year+ of living with COVID?

Jordan: People who want to have an impact will continue to step up and come into the profession. We should highlight how a background in nursing leads to opportunities, that it’s a springboard to doing other things.

We also need to step up our game in terms of reaching Black and brown and Indigenous populations. Going into schools to talk to students early and often about the nursing profession including the many work settings other than hospitals that nurses are employed state and local health departments, academic settings, private sector, such as pharmaceutical companies, managed care organizations and other health finance organizations. And we have to do that by involving people from these groups in creating the marketing.

Check out these post-pandemic nurse retention strategies.

HealthcareSource: How can organizations doing the work on anti-racism and equity convey that in their recruiting without looking like they’re virtue-signaling or paying lip-service?

Jordan:  Address the institutional issues. Nursing is an entrenched profession that is primarily Caucasian. Why is that? According to an article by Kenya Beard, Wrenetha Julion and Roberta Waite in Nursing Economic$, Black and brown nurses are more likely to achieve higher degrees than white nurses but are less likely to be seen inleadership positions Why not? These are hard questions but they must be answered.

We have to address institutional racism and break down the invisible and visible barriers we refuse to address. There’s research that demonstrates how race-related inequities in hiring and promotion serve as invisible barriers to entering and staying in the profession. Organizations that acknowledge them and create new hiring policies and pathways to leadership signal that they are moving forward.

We can change this. Offer implicit bias training and self-evaluations. Look at hiring practices and pay equity. Create pathways to leadership. That’s the only way to make sure we’re hiring and promoting individuals who look like the communities we serve. Your policies and practices in action become your marketing.

About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based business and brand journalist who has covered healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema, and co-authored the award-winning teen writing book, Be a Better Writer. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.