The COVID-19 pandemic thrust nurses and the nursing industry into the spotlight, according to Angelleen Peters-Lewis.
“If we build on the momentum that’s been created with COVID to really push forward progress, both for the profession and more importantly for the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve, history will judge how we seize the momentum,” she said.
Peters-Lewis, the chief operating officer and chief nurse executive at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Miss. and BC ’06, addressed current, retired, and aspiring nurses from Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing during its Pinnacle lecture on Tuesday.
Peters-Lewis analyzed nurses’ crucial role in highlighting weak points in the health care system and dealing with day-to-day problems within the health care sphere, as nurses are always surrounded by patients, she said.
“America is looking for us to really raise our voices and make an impact on health care delivery more broadly,” Peters-Lewis said.
To combat the discouragement many nurses face after losing thousands of lives during the pandemic, Peters-Lewis suggested that policy changes within hospitals improving day-to-day conditions are the most effective way to improve the nursing profession.
“In everything health is embedded, and every policy is about health,” she said. “And so given our education and our power and our lens we should be elevating most of these issues to a health policy issue.”
Peters-Lewis also argued that nurses need to realize their value to hospitals and society so they continue working in the field and increase the overall number of working nurses.
“So when we say we need more staff or have a nursing shortage, it’s really about value—the value of the work that we do and the value that we bring,” she said.
Discussing the future of nursing, Peters-Lewis said nurses do not only have to serve patients in hospitals. When exiting the nursing field, they can use their nursing backgrounds to enter and improve other industries including technology, business, politics, and more, she said.
“We have to prepare nurses who are ready to serve wherever their career takes them because there’s value for the nursing lens,” she said.
Peters-Lewis continued by describing the modern nurse’s role. Nurses should focus on more than just the tasks assigned to them, she said.
“The contemporary nurse is really focused on a bigger thinking beyond the bedside, understanding … how to care for patients, but also thinking about policy, understanding clinical knowledge and decision-making, understanding big data, artificial intelligence, and thinking about their intellectual property,” she said.
She wrapped up the lecture emphasizing the impact the nurses continue to make on communities and the world.
“I want you to know leaving today … the power of the nurse—that nurses act locally, but their interventions can have an impact for generations,” Peters-Lewis said.
Peters-Lewis left attendees with one final question, encouraging them to take advantage of the pandemic’s effects on the public perception of nursing.
“So for all of you, in your sphere of influence, are you willing to seize and build on the momentum that was created with the pandemic?”