Supporting Front-Line Nursing Staff During a Crisis

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Healthcare worker holding placard with supportive 'we can do this' message while standing in the hospital.When a medical crisis strikes, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are on the front lines to keep patients healthy and safe. An all-hands-on-deck situation means staff nurses may need support to handle the accompanying turmoil. In a crisis, the emotional well-being of nurses and nurse leaders is paramount to patient safety.

A study of nurses, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals treating COVID patients in New York City found that nurses and other advanced-practice providers suffered stress, anxiety and depression. At the same time, however, the study found that 61% of participants felt an increased sense of meaning and purpose. The study, published in General Hospital Psychiatry, stated nurses and others cope by using stress-reducing strategies such as exercise, talk therapy, and religious/spiritual practices.

“These findings should inform the development and implementation of interventions to mitigate the impact of sustained psychological distress on long-term mental and physical well-being in healthcare workers. The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic should help decision-makers at all levels of government, hospital management and the community to promote readiness to protect healthcare workers as we navigate this and future public health crises. We hope that these findings will influence policies at other institutions that face a rapid rise in patients with COVID-19 in the future,” researchers said in “Psychological Distress, Coping Behaviors, and Preferences for Support Among New York Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Nurse leaders in executive positions support and guide staff nurses and other staff members to work through public health emergencies. Master’s degree in nursing online programs help registered nurses (RNs) reach their goals of being nurse executives and improving nurse staff development opportunities. By earning an online Post-Master’s Certificate in Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can provide the direction needed in times of crisis.

COVID and Nurse Stress

The General Hospital Psychiatry study also found insomnia and loneliness to be pervasive among the nearly 1,000 study participants. Nurses reported the worst sleeping problems, the study found.

“Although all healthcare workers are experiencing a psychological toll, nurses were particularly affected. The different responsibilities of nurses may partly explain the higher rates of positive acute stress screens and other impacts, as they are spending more time delivering direct patient care,” study authors said. “Although these PTSD-like symptoms are normal and expected during traumatic events, and symptoms are expected to decline for many who currently screen positive for acute stress, a substantial proportion are likely to subsequently meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD.”

At the same time, a different study, by The Journal of Nursing Research, found nurses have been filling roles and functions in five essential domains during the COVID pandemic. The roles and functions also could apply to any large-scale medical crisis:

  1. Provide health education

Nurses provide information for the general public and high-risk individuals regarding infection control and early detection of disease symptoms. Nurses also offer screening services for those potentially infected with the disease. 

  1. Develop nosocomial infection prevention and surveillance

In a hospital setting, nurses screen suspected cases, implement standard precautions and educate and train patients, their families and other facility staff members. Nurses also perform and monitor isolation care and provide emotional support to those under mandatory home-quarantine restrictions.

  1. Prepare and protect nursing homes and long-term care settings

Nurse prepare safe environments to help patients in nursing homes and long-term care settings who are highly vulnerable to infection. They create care plans to rapidly identify and manage sick patients, develop safe visitor policies and conduct staff training. 

  1. Protect immunodeficient patients and those with underlying diseases

Nurses develop plans to protect and assist patients who have diseases that are susceptible to infection such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic illnesses and cancer. They educate patients regarding self-protection.

  1. Deliver care to acute and critical COVID-19 patients

Nurses provide care to COVID patients who are in acute or critical care and ensure that other healthcare providers are fully protected from being infected. In an intensive-care setting, nursing staffs provide life-sustaining care and psychological support to patients.

How to Support Front-Line Staff

Advisory Board, which provides best practices for healthcare improvements, said organizations must help front-line staff members cope during the pandemic. The organization suggests that facilities:

  • Expand emotional support services
  • Strengthen peer networks
  • Create safe spaces for nurses to decompress
  • Provide assistance for daily tasks (such as grocery shopping) so nurses can focus on patient care
  • Share resources so staff can help themselves

When working in high-level positions, APRNs who have earned an online Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management Post-Master’s Certificate can help staff nurses.

At Duquesne University, students who earn a master’s degree in nursing online learn essential skills for nurse staff development and providing for the emotional well-being of nurses and nurse leaders in crisis.

Duquesne University’s Online Post-Master’s Certificate Program

Duquesne University’s online post-master’s nursing certificate allows RNs to advance their careers and lead positive changes for the future of healthcare. The post-master’s nursing certificate programs represent an opportunity to better health outcomes. The university offers several tracks:

  • Executive Nurse Leadership & Health Care Management
  • Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner
  • Forensic Nursing
  • Nurse Education and Faculty Role

Duquesne University is a leader in online nursing education and recognized as a Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing. The university’s rich history of excellence in online education includes pioneering the first online Ph.D. in Nursing program in the nation.


General Hospital Psychiatry, “Psychological distress, coping behaviors, and preferences for support among New York healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic”
The Journal of Nursing Research, “Nursing Perspectives on the Impacts of COVID-19”
Advisory Board, “Starter list: How you can support frontline staff during the Covid-19 crisis”