From the Frontline: Using Nursing's Diverse Expertise During COVID-19 webinar provides insight into nurses’ experience of the pandemic

Monash University’s From the Frontline: Using Nursing’s Diverse Expertise During COVID-19 webinar took place on Thursday 22 October with over 200 viewers tuning in to the live event.

The webinar was hosted by Professor Debra Griffiths and included four presentations by Nurse Practitioner Ms Vanessa Clothier, Associate Professor Julia Morphet, Associate Professor Helen Rawson and Associate Professor Philip Russo. The webinar focused on the broad-spectrum skillsets of Australian nurses through the lens of the pandemic and highlighted the diverse important roles of nurses which are often undervalued or not necessarily seen and understood by our community members. (Click here to watch Debra’s introduction.)

Vanessa began the evening with an insightful presentation on her lived experience on the frontline of the pandemic. As a Nurse Practitioner in an emergency department her account provided a detailed glimpse into the way nurses have had to adapt in the current pandemic in both their professional and personal lives. (Click here to watch Vanessa’s presentation.)

“We were in a very privileged position,” Vanessa recounted, “to be able to watch and learn from our colleagues in the northern hemisphere and their COVID experience. We had time to prepare ourselves for the potential tsunami that could come our way.”

“Working in an overwhelmed emergency department was not something I wanted to experience. For me, being overwhelmed means that you can no longer deliver the type of patient care you’ve been educated to do.”

With the first positive tests emerging in Australia, Vanessa saw a shake-up in her department. Work processes were changed, extra personal protective equipment (PPE) was required and the emergency ward was divided into low-risk and high-risk COVID-19 patients.

“In my 24 years of emergency nursing, I have never seen such a massive change in a model of care, and especially a change that occurred in 24 hours.”

This too created personal choices surrounding her family and how best to protect them working in a high-risk setting. “There was a part of me that was truly frightened of working in a high-risk area,” she admitted.

The need for rapid change was a theme picked up upon by our second presenter Associate Professor Julia Morphet. As the Director of Education, Julia is responsible for Monash Nursing and Midwifery courses that enrol approximately 1,750 students. (Click here to watch Julia’s presentation.)

Nursing and Midwifery are taught across a number of practical and theoretical mediums that occur both at university and within the health services sector. Students are required to complete 800 hours of clinical placement, an undertaking that was complicated by the onset of the pandemic, explains Julia.

With the crisis worsening, her team adapted to online teaching quickly. “Information and plans were changing daily, and sometimes it felt like hourly, and our team worked long days to provide students with as much support as possible.”

“We were really breaking new ground as we managed educational challenges with the changes in health service policy.”

Weekly webinars for students were introduced to clarify and communicate information for students as the pandemic created a number of practical and personal obstacles for students.

“I believe we have a resilient cohort committed to our profession and our community. They have been prepared for infection control and disaster management better than any cohort before them and I’ve seen them mature rapidly in the classes I teach.”

We were then introduced to registered nurse and Monash academic Associate Professor Helen Rawson, who focuses on safe and quality care for the elderly. Helen provided us with an insightful look into the impact COVID-19 has had on aged care. (Click here to watch Helen’s presentation.)

As an expert in aged care, Helen is part of the crisis management team in a small aged care organisation in Melbourne. She emphasised the importance of including nurses in crisis response teams and policy making, especially in aged care. As part of the team, she has supported the creation of a COVID-19 response plan.

“Three quarters of the deaths of COVID-19 in Australia has been people living in aged care homes,” she reminded viewers.

Helen explained how this has substantially changed aged care. “That tradition of aged care being a homely place with soft furnishings and that large communal place where residents are encouraged to come together to engage, that’s now changing, and the focus is on infection prevention control measures to maintain physical distance, working with face masks and shields.”

Her presentation humanised the experience of the pandemic in aged care as she spoke of the importance of supporting residents. “People do die in aged care. We need to support the older person and their families if there is a resident who was having end of life care.”

Helen also spoke movingly about her own experience with her mother being in aged care in England during this time. “I can’t travel to go and see her and even if I could, I cannot actually physically go into the building. So I understand the anxieties this raises for family members.”

The final presenter, Associate Professor Philip Russo, pivoted towards a focus on infection control. Philip spoke about his background in infectious disease control beginning with his work as a nurse in an infectious disease ward where he treated patients for HIV/AIDS. He also referenced his work as the president of Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control. (Click here to watch Philip’s presentation.)

In early January, Philip was asked to join the National Infection Control expert group to provide expertise on infection control to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Along with 17 other experts, Philip said he advised on the handling of incoming international flights, PPE and other disease control measures. “There’s roughly over 150 years of nursing infection control experience on this committee,” Philip said.

He also spoke about his work in the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Task Force which aims to provide evidence-based guidelines on COVID-19. “It’s literally a fulltime job to keep across the evidence and that’s what the task force does,” said Philip.

All presenters demonstrated the diversity of nurses’ expertise and experience and their vital role in healthcare and during this pandemic. As Debra pointed out, the role of the nurse is “developing and evolving” and the knowledge of nurses forms an important facet in policy, education, research and crisis response.

You can watch the full webinar here.

It followed on from our first webinar in this series, From the Frontline: Clinical impacts of COVID-19 held in August this year.