Health Professionals during the pandemic

In a short period of time the coronavirus crisis has disrupted most aspects of Australian life – the economy, our social and cultural activities, education, health, and transport. It is becoming exceedingly clear to the public the extraordinary role that doctors, and nurses have played during this pandemic.

Not just those in the front line but for all health professionals who have had to adapt and change their practice at remarkable speed. Take a moment to think of the doctors and nurses changing how they provide healthcare, consultations done using telehealth for example or providing care behind face masks and in high-risk cases PPE. I have assisted in births where women cannot see your encouraging smiles behind a mask and then watch as they tearfully facetime family and friends. We provide comfort in moments of isolation.

Consider the increased amount of paperwork that must be done to screen and track patients before arrival at hospitals, General Practices and in aged care. Over archingly as health professionals we have worked as a co hesive team. This effective collaboration has been crucial for providing the most efficient and best quality care for patients under extraordinary circumstances.

This is the second time in my career as a nurse and midwife that I have witnessed effective collaboration in the workplace between health professionals and level of fear in the community in response to a health crisis. I remember vividly in my first years as a student nurse in the 1980’s at Royal North Shore Hospital seeing male patients with AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. Medical authorities were grappling to understand and contain the disease and the public bore witness to The Grim Reaper commercial aimed at raising public awareness (and a great deal of fear) on the dangers of AIDS.

However, the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s transformed the social and political landscape in unexpected ways and now in 2020 we should be harnessing all the support shown to health professionals especially to nurses, the largest part of the professional health workforce by raising our profile and making our contribution to the health team central to health policy. Those wonderful hand clapping sessions witnessed in the UK in gratitude to healthcare professionals on the frontline -those hands are not empty vessels making the most noise.

Now is the time to act to develop a more sustainable and responsive health workforce, to take note of the expertise of nurses, for doctors and nurses to work in collaboration, mutual respect while maintaining a commitment to high quality, easily accessible healthcare, and safe health outcomes for our patients.

The Australian health care system is indeed a complex mix of federal and state government funding and responsibility, policy decisions are weighted heavily towards the medical doctors, there is resistance to nurses from the Royal Australian College Practitioners and there is certainly a palpable turf war, but this is much much bigger than this. Nurses and doctors must respect each other’s autonomy, professional skill, and capability.

I imagine that the public are totally unaware of the extent that medical doctors have in setting policy direction or indeed the existence of a turf war. I am unsure that many of my nursing and midwifery colleagues are aware of the extent as well.

Now is the time to harness positive public awareness of the value of nurses, what we are seeking from Minister Hunt is a modern-day Joan of Arc someone equipped with the skill and strategic knowledge to lead a whole nation to a paradigm shift in delivering healthcare, increasing nurses’ scope of practice that spans legislation, administrative and professional domains.

Carol Cooke

Discipline Lead Stage 2 Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Obstetric and Gynaecology Lecturer

Department of Clinical Medicine

Faculty of Medicine, Health & Health Sciences,Macquarie University

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Carol Cooke is a registered nurse and midwife and lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Macquarie University.

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