“Nurses are being put at increased risk at a time when their communities need them more than ever before. What makes the attacks especially terrifying is that health care personnel are responding to a crisis that is deeply affecting all societies.” – Howard Catton, Chief Executive Officer, International Council of Nurses
In the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed nurses and health care workers to death, disease and mental distress at levels not seen in decades. To make matters worse, nurses on the front lines are also enduring increasing levels of violence. They have been shunned, abused and even physically attacked because of their close contact with coronavirus patients.
In an article in the May issue of The Lancet, International Council of Nurses Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton writes that, while many countries hail nurses as heroes, others have sown fear, panic and resentment against frontline health workers, leading to increased attacks and unprecedented stress and burnout.
Such mistreatment reflects a larger problem of violence and unrest around the world. Our country is not immune. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the United States finds itself in a hailstorm of turmoil. More than 100,000 people are dead. More than 40 million people have lost their livelihoods. Families are struggling to survive. Inequality is laid bare. In the streets, outraged citizens express a collective cry of anguish and demand change.
All of this begs the question – where are our leaders? Who is stepping up to offer reassurance and guidance? Who can tell us that, although things might be bad, they will eventually be all right?
Leadership in a crisis requires a different type of leader. One who steps outside the political sphere to bring people together, heal divisions and promote unity. Strong leaders tone down the rhetoric because, in a crisis, people are living on the edge. They are anxious. They are often sad and depressed. They need leadership that strengthens the spirit and heals wounds.
In a pandemic, strong leaders turn to the scientific world to inform and direct us. They favor a knowledge-based approach that relies on trusted public health organizations to provide reliable information to guide personal decision-making. Leaders in a crisis support these vital institutions and value their contributions.
Strong leaders empathize with the circumstances of others. They do not need to be seen as the most powerful person in the room. They don’t view the crisis as a threat to their authority or an excuse to deploy denial and blame.
Strong leaders look back in order to move forward. They learn from the past to ensure a recovery that makes us stronger, healthier and more resilient. They change what needs to be changed to create a more sustainable society that is prepared for the next crisis. Because it is coming. It may not be in the form of a virus. It may be a natural disaster or terrorist attack or some other large-scale public health emergency. But whatever form it takes, we must be ready.
Whether it’s confronting violence against health care workers, handling a deadly pandemic, hearing an outraged citizenry, or comforting a frightened nation, strong leaders remind us of our common bonds and common purpose. They promote unity – something we need more than ever in this time of protest and loss.