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‘Just a simple thank you’: Calgary nurses reflect on changing work during COVID-19

Calgary nurse Jill Van Dyke said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way a lot of people view front line healthcare workers.

With National Nursing Week set for May 11 to May 17, the often-unheralded group hopes their daily effort has a new meaning this year.

While there has been an outpouring of support, some nurses are still left feeling unappreciated and frustrated.

In November last year, the Alberta government was making plans to lay off nearly 750 registered nurses (RN). Despite the front line contributions, the province said they plan to postpone any layoffs – but not cancel them.

According to Alberta Health Services, there are more than 26,000 RN’s working within the province.

Van Dyke, a registered nurse for six years, and said management often provides small tokens of appreciation during NNW.

“It doesn’t ever really feel like there’s a true acknowledgement. It’s always just token gifts and this alleged appreciation. I would take a heart felt thank you over a pen. But that doesn’t really happen,” she said.  

Registered nurses work in clinics, hospitals, schools and specialty facilities including addiction centres, home care and more. Each of these areas provides a different element

Changing the way we view our essential workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the role of front-line workers. Many have seen big changes in their day-to-day routines. But it’s not just the front-line workers who are affected.

“I find with COVID people have been way more aware of how essential the job really is. I hope that does change things long term,” said Van Dyke.

Nursing is about helping others but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate those who help us. Van Dyke explained that they’re [nurses] not looking for much, but a little gratitude goes a long way.

Alana Metcalfe, a nurse at Foothills Hospital said she understands that Alberta Health Services can’t thank each individual nurse and is grateful for having a supportive team.

What’s important is “your co-workers supporting coworkers,” said Metcalfe.

Feeling the change – How COVID-19 affects health care workers

COVID-19 is affecting how nurses work and is continuously changing to keep up with safety measures.

Metcalfe said things can change on a dime.

“Everything changes by the day. So many policies have changed. But every day it’s different. It’s hard to be consistent,” she said.

Not only have policies and safety regulations changed, but the way people act and communicate is very different than before.

“I feel like people are a lot more tense right now,” Metcalfe said.

You have people that are tense because they’re very worried about isolation precautions. Then you have people that are tense because they don’t believe in it at all.  It just makes your day a lot harder.”

Van Dyke, who works at an addictions centre, said not only is COVID affecting how the patients feel, but it’s also limiting who can get help.

“We are not able to accept anyone with COVID symptoms right now. So it’s limiting the amount of people that can access our services. A lot of our folks are really vulnerable living on the streets,” she said.

Nursing has changed due to ongoing pandemic regardless of where that nursing is done. Job pressures have changed, lives are on the line.

“It’s thankless with the best of times. I don’t think people realize the impact that those positive words can have, even if it is just a simple thank you,” she said.