On the front line: WHO declares 2020 Year of the Midwife and Nurse, and the timing couldn’t have been better

COVID-19 is a timely reminder that we rely on the dedication, determination, and empathy of these incredible people every day. (Image source: Hush Naidoo/Unsplash)

By Viki Ntafillis | @viki_ntaf

It is hard to say where we would be without our healthcare workers; a world without midwives and nurses protecting our most vulnerable is a grim thought.

The World Health Organisation’s declaration of 2020 as the Year of the Midwife and Nurse has helped us to remember just that.

Also, tomorrow (May 5) is International Midwives Day, followed by International Nurses Day on May 12.

‘The front line’ of essential workers, midwives and nurses have been presented with their fair share of challenges throughout the pandemic.

Donna Boord, acting midwife educator in the Nursing and Midwifery Education and Research Practise Development Department at Lyell McEwin Hospital, can attest to this.

“At one point, things changed not only on a daily basis, but on an hourly basis, sometimes three times a day,” Ms Boord said.

“What we were doing at 9am [had to change] by 11am because different meetings with different people had occurred … things were evolving very quickly.

“It was challenging for the unit managers to keep staff up-to-date.”

When COVID-19 started, many new clinical pathways, guidelines and policies were developed to maintain social distancing and ensure the “safety of the staff and women was paramount”.

“We then had to practise [these new pathways] … running drills, working with the operating theatre staff, the neonatologists and the nursery team,” Ms Boord said.

“[This way], the midwives knew exactly their role … [otherwise], a small break in the correct procedures could put staff at risk of COVID.

“As for patient handovers, which occur clinically in shifts, and usually in large groups, they have now been split into smaller groups or on a one-to-one basis.

“My handovers and briefs in the mornings are now held by Zoom, and many of my meetings are on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.”

Many midwifery education programs – such as students attending patient home visits or being present in operating theatres – were suspended to maintain social distancing.

Placements were also reallocated from second to third-year students to prepare “the future workforce”.

“We had to look at what was essential or non-essential; there was also the education we needed to roll out regarding COVID, which was a priority,” Ms Boord said.

“We also developed upskilling education in case we became swamped with COVID and had to bring in hundreds of extra staff that hadn’t worked clinically in a while.

“Basically, we’re preparing for Armageddon.”

Kayla Olman, graduate nursing student from the University of Adelaide and student nurse at St Andrews Hospital, had her education affected in a similar way.

“Placements were originally cancelled but have just been allocated to us again for August,” Ms Olman said.

“We’ve started studying online, which means there’ll be no practical lessons where we learn our placement skills; we’ll have to learn them in a clinical environment.”

Normally stationed in the procedural suite at work, Ms Olman said her area has changed dramatically since the government cancelled elective surgeries.

“It’s a lot quieter now … all my shifts have been cancelled as I’m a casual worker and many other nurses have had to take leave.”

For Sophia Petropoulos, graduate nursing student from the University of South Australia and medical assistant at Healius, studies have also transitioned to online.

Although she was lucky enough to finish her eight-week placement at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, it was not without its complications.

“About halfway through, I wasn’t certain if I was going to complete it, [but] there was ongoing communication and support by the university to continue as normal,” Ms Petropoulos said.

“At one stage, I developed some minor respiratory symptoms which required me to see my doctor and then… be swab tested for COVID-19.

“That was quite stressful as I had to take some days off from placement. Thankfully, results were negative and I returned to placement as normal.”

Ms Petropoulos also said that while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) was a “necessity to protecting myself and others”, it was unpleasant to wear at times.

“When working in the clinic’s screening environment, I’m required to wear a gown, N95 mask, gloves, goggles and a face shield,” she said.

“It gets quite uncomfortable after eight hours, and I often come home with bruises on my face from the facial PPE.”

COVID-19 has also affected the efforts of The 2H Project, a midwifery charity founded by Adelaide midwife and senior midwifery lecturer at Flinders University Kate Taylor.

Picture1
Kate Taylor (centre) in Cambodia, with The 2H Project Australian staff members and the Cambodian healthcare workers they trained. (Image source: The 2H Project)

The 2H Project is dedicated to delivering birthing education to healthcare workers in Cambodia, flying a team of medical staff overseas to achieve this.

However, after the government’s shutdown of international travel, the charity had to modify their methods.

“We have taken our face-to-face training online … and have purchased and mobilised some PPE [to Cambodia],” Ms Taylor said.

“Our Cambodian colleagues have a lot of questions, and they’re limited in resources … they have no PPE.

“Hopefully, we can still help them educate the community around them to stop the spread.”

Despite the difficulties in healthcare at the moment, there is the occasional silver lining to be experienced by patients and staff alike.

For example, Ms Boord said the hospital’s one visitor policy has prevented mothers from “being bombarded with visitors the first few days after giving birth”.

“[Usually], the women don’t rest, and often feeding won’t go as well because they’ll rush it or they don’t feel comfortable feeding in front of others,” Ms Boord said.

“Even when they go home for those first few days, [the mothers could be] resting but they’ve got to be up, entertaining visitors.

“Now, the mothers are coping a lot better with their feedings; they’re calmer and more relaxed.”

Ms Olman said her nursing knowledge has given her an “educational role” in her family.

“I’ve been able to teach them how to wash their hands properly, and to not wear gloves while shopping, to avoid cross-contamination,” she said.

The public has also been more supportive than ever towards healthcare workers, according to Ms Boord.“Many of my colleagues say how they feel people have almost been too kind; it’s been lovely; people have been really appreciative,” she said.

“Midwives will always be there caring for women, no matter what the circumstances.

“Even with COVID-19, we’ll still be doing the same for them: caring for them, supporting them and advocating for them. It doesn’t change anything.”

On Midwives Day, Ms Taylor said that she wants the community to remember to “advocate for those who are less fortunate”.

“Sometimes it’s not until you go [overseas] that you understand the disparity between ‘us’ and ‘them’… it’s hard to imagine that people don’t have what we have,” she said.

“My encouragement would always be to work locally, act locally, but think globally,”

She also wanted to remind the public that while SA has been travelling well in comparison to other jurisdictions, we cannot become complacent.

“It’s easy to relax, but we need to keep up the good work we’ve all put in. We need to stay vigilant.”

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