21 December 2020 | Story André Damons | Photo Anja Aucamp
Belinda Karstens.

The COVID-19 pandemic emphasised the importance of practising as an interdisciplinary team, because healthcare practitioners experienced the advantages of true collaboration between disciplines, as well as the negative effects it can have on patient care if it is absent.  

This is according to Belinda Karstens, a part-time lecturer in the School of Nursing at the University of the Free State (UFS), who is responsible for the Advanced University Diploma in Critical Care Nursing (general). 

The future training, education, and research of medical personnel 
According to her, it also emphasised that competent healthcare practitioners are needed in the peripheral hospitals as well, not just in the big centres; they could be reached through an online approach.  
“I think we are going to see a bigger variety of training approaches now that we know it is possible, and hopefully it will enable us to build a stronger, more competent workforce.”

She continues: “There is a need to look at the so-called ‘soft skills’ again. How can we improve the emotional intelligence of our healthcare practitioners?  How can we improve interdisciplinary communication and communication with patients and their families?”

Impact of COVID-19 on the nursing profession

According to Karstens, the challenges nurses experienced during the pandemic were more were more mental than physical. “It is difficult to build rapport with patients from behind a mask, and in the absence of the family, the supportive role of the nurse has expanded.  The constant change that nurses have experienced in the workplace added to stress levels.  Nurses were confronted with their own mortality and the fear that they will transmit the disease to their loved ones.”

 “I think the pandemic brought us back to the fundamental question of why we become nurses?  Why are we doing what we do?  Hopefully it will force us to return to really care for people; we love to say that nursing is a caring profession, but we’ve lost a lot of that caring along the way.”

“Hopefully, we can again teach our junior nurses what caring really means, and maybe we can persuade nurses that we need to take responsibility for our own profession, that we cannot demand respect, but that we must earn it by being knowledgeable, competent, and ethical in our own practice,” says Karstens, who is also working in the critical care unit of a private hospital as a bedside critical-care nurse.  

A new world

Sister Karstens think while it might take a while, COVID-19 will become just another contagious disease that must be managed. 

“There was a time when we didn’t wear gloves routinely when working with patients, now it is considered standard practice.  Maybe things such as the wearing of surgical masks will also become standard practice after this.  I certainly think manufacturers will pay more attention to the safety of equipment in terms of aerostation, and that we will be more aware of the importance of infection control principles in clinical practice.” 

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