Tired, overworked, exhausted health care working sitting outside the hospital while taking a break

Nurses from across the country told researchers they felt moral distress in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a study published in Sage Open Nursing, 100 nurses surveyed resoundingly said there was “a chasm” between how they would have liked to have performed their duties during the pandemic and the reality of providing care during that time.

The respondents also told researchers they were overwhelmed by the large number of COVID-19 patients, the unknowns of COVID-19 processes, the high level of acuity among coronavirus patients, the number of COVID-19 deaths and the lack of medical supplies. Chicago’s DePaul University researchers conducted the study.

One nurse told researchers she wore a single gown during an entire shift, spraying it down with bleach between bedside visits with patients.

“It was frightening because we know that’s not what’s supposed to be done,” the nurse wrote in the survey.

The nurses also expressed frustration over not being acknowledged for their work, feeling powerless in voicing concerns and guilt from letting others down.

Nurses have been on the front lines of healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, facing psychological and physical demands. In a recent survey of 2,500 nurses by labor union National Nurses United, respondents said they have faced increased workplace violence and extreme stress during the pandemic. 

Another poll of  nurses found more than one-third plan to quit their jobs this year, with nearly half blaming burnout from the pandemic and the high rate of stress from their jobs as the primary reasons. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry has lost nearly 300,000 jobs or 18% of its workforce since the start of the pandemic.