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USF Program Seeks to Help Nurses Facing Pandemic Fatigue

A University of South Florida nursing student receives practical training at a flu drive held in the fall.
A University of South Florida nursing student receives practical training at a flu drive held in the fall.

A new training program at the University of South Florida is designed to help nurses deal with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nurses put the health, safety and wellness of their patients before their own. But the coronavirus pandemic is placing more stress and medical risks on frontline health care workers.

The University of South Florida’s College of Nursing this week launched an educational training program designed to help nurses protect their health as they treat COVID-19 patients.

The four-part webinar series, “Frontline Nursing During COVID-19: A New Paradigm,” provides nurses with the tools they need to advocate for their own safety and well-being during the pandemic.

“Nurses are exposed to risks and hazards as part of their work environment,” said Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor at USF’s College of Nursing. “All of the hazards that our workforce is exposed to have been exponentially increased during the time of the pandemic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 403,000 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Of those individuals, 1,403 have died.

The pandemic also puts more mental strain on a nursing workforce that is already faced with widespread employment shortages, stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that stressors linked to burnout in nurses, including increased illness, longer hours and severe working conditions, are particularly prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic is mentally exhausting for nurses,” Letourneau said. “And if we don’t address these issues and support our nurses, I am afraid that they will leave the nursing profession.”

According to a nation-wide survey of 1,300 nurses, three out of five respondents indicated that they were likely to leave their position as a result of their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re working round the clock, more shifts than normal,” Letourneau said. “Pre-pandemic, a typical nurse could work about three 12-hour shifts per week. Now, nurses are working four and five 12 or 16-hour shifts per week, and they’re reporting that they are just exhausted.”

Letourneau said that the program addresses how the nursing workforce has been affected by the pandemic and aims to provide nurses with the skills to help them care for themselves.

Topics include how to navigate difficult situations, like a lack of personal protective equipment; mitigation strategies beyond basic handwashing and mask wearing; and how to stay healthy during the pandemic.

The series is available for free, thanks to a $57,000 donation from Sarasota’s David Kotok and Christine Schlesinger. Nurses who complete the program are eligible for continuing-education credits, which are a necessary part of license renewal.

To register for the program, visit USF Health’s nursing website.

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