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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

4 Reforms to Protect Nurses’ Mental Health

Experiencing Stress Post Pandemic 
August 20, 2021


Nine out of ten nurses interviewed about the psychological impact of the pandemic say they never want to experience it again, according to initial research by Marilyn “Tina” Erive, BSN, RN, CNOR, a perioperative nurse at Stamford Health in Fairfield County, CT. She is working with AORN to conduct a nationwide survey of AORN members as part of a larger research study on how OR nurses’ mental health has been impacted through the COVID-19 response.

A poster presentation on Erive’s research design concept took first place recently at AORN’s Virtual Expo. As she continues her research to track the ongoing psychological impact of COVID-19 response, she says the data she is gathering points to major psychological injury that needs to be addressed now.

“Based on literature reviews, interviews with my colleagues and friends, and my own experience during the pandemic, most nurses are experiencing anxiety, paranoia (such as fearing every cough or sneeze that could potentially be COVID-19), and other common symptoms that align with post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as symptoms of depression, including inability to sleep and overeating or not having an appetite,” Erive explains.

Here are four ways Erive suggests healthcare leaders can better protect the mental health of OR nurses: 

  1. Hire More Staff
    “If a crisis like this happens again, there needs to be enough personnel to go around so that there won’t be such a need to deploy OR nurses to other areas and sacrifice their psychological health.”. She says there is already a shortage of nurses who want to do clinical work because they feel overworked but underpaid. “Asking OR nurses to be deployed in an area outside of their expertise in a future pandemic is such an overwhelming and stressful experience.”

  2. Improve Training for New Nurses
    The pandemic response put a spotlight on the knowledge and skill deficits in nursing education, she says, which put more strain on OR nurses being deployed. “Not all nurses are equipped with knowledge and skills that are needed to respond in a critical care crisis because there is not a lot of exposure to these skills during nursing school or not enough training is done during the orientation phase, especially for a new nursing graduate.”

  3. Build Coping Resources
    Looking at the ways OR nurses sought mental health support during the pandemic, Erive suggests that healthcare leaders implement and strengthen permanent mental health services, such as peer support and counseling. She also hopes perioperative nurse leaders will provide more incentives like frequent break periods, and extra days off to allow them to recharge. “Too often it is in our nature to stretch ourselves thin to provide for our patients, but we need to support each other in taking care of ourselves so we can be strong when we are needed.”

  4. Provide a Safe Environment
    Government and institutional leaders should make sure to always have a sufficient supply of proper, functioning, and approved personal safety equipment and other supplies to ease staff members’ fears and risk of infection transmission.

AORN members will receive an email request to participate in an upcoming formal survey for Erive’s research on the psychological impact of COVID-19 response among perioperative nurses. Also, the deadline to submit a AORN Expo 2022 poster abstract is October 1, 2021.

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