Shining a light on nursing during COVID-19

by Scott Ramsay, RN

"Health is not only to be well, but to be able to use well every power we have to use."
-Florence Nightingale

Yesterday I was writing about Generalizability Theory for a term paper in a class that I am currently taking on reliability and psychometrics as part of my Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing program at the University of British Columbia. Besides being a full-time graduate student, I am a nurse in the outpatient Neurology Clinic at British Columbia Children's Hospital.

Today that all changed. As of today, I have been seconded as a nurse to field calls from all staff and employees in my health authority for COVID-19. This is the current state of the times we are living in. Of course it is not first-hand news that we are in a current pandemic, but what does seem novel is the discovery and appreciation for what nursing does as a profession. Across the globe, people are standing on their balconies nightly applauding the dedication and bravery shown by nurses, by all health care professionals and hospital staff. As fate would have it, these events have transpired during the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, as deemed by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018). This is an opportune time for the discipline to display what we do best, which is provide exemplary care to all patients, no matter the circumstances (Thorne, 2017).

As many of you know, the year 2020 was chosen by the WHO to honour the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. Nightingale is most famously noted for being 'The Lady with the Lamp' and her contributions with providing care to the sick during the Crimean War. However, she was also a brilliant statistician who used diagrams, most notably the polar area diagram, with a host of other techniques to demonstrate the urgent need to change practices in military hospitals (Tunstall, 2016).

Here, we can see the dichotomy of what Nightingale termed the “art” and “science” of nursing. This differentiation has become quite obvious to myself in the past couple of days. Being a graduate student, I have taken advanced statistical classes on regression, both linear and logistic models. Prior to being seconded, I found myself explaining to family and friends what a logistic regression model is and how social distancing can impact exponential growth – the science portion of nursing. Fast-forward to today; taking calls from my colleagues and peers, you could hear the uncertainty in their voices as to what exactly they should be doing. Cue the art of nursing. Through listening to their concerns I could actively direct them on the steps they needed to follow, but I could also be present and thank them for their service and wish them well, engaging in transmission of emotion and meaning to another (Jenner, 1997) in sickness or in health. These instances exemplify what Nightingale deemed the art and science of nursing.

Indeed, we find ourselves in uncharted territory and, to quote one of our nursing leaders, "the world badly needs a good strong dose of what our profession stands for" (Thorne, 2017, p.2). I may be a doctoral student and pediatric nurse, but I still know how to bring nursing to any context, both through art and science, and can provide knowledge and care during this time of need. I urge you all to do the same. Nurses will continue to demonstrate leadership, knowledge, and a voice for the best evidence-based practice and information, while also caring for our colleagues and the public who are impacted directly and indirectly by COVID-19. In the coming days, weeks, and months it is imperative to rally all of our collective nursing designations in B.C. – RNs, LPNs, NPs and RPNs – to demonstrate our core disciplinary knowledge in order to provide that exemplary care. Although nursing has continuously deflected credit and worked quietly in the background of the health care system (Thorne, 2019), it is time to use the light we have been given and make it shine even brighter, so that we can effectively use every power we have to get us through these unprecedented times.


Jenner, C. A. (1997). The art of nursing: a concept analysis. Nursing Forum, 32(4), 5−11. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6198.1997.tb00970.x
Thorne, S. (2017). Editorial: For what do we stand? Nursing Inquiry, 24(2), 1−2. https://doi.org/10.1111/nin.12195
Thorne, S. (2019). Editorial: Nursing now or never. Nursing Inquiry, 26(4), 1−2. https://doi.org/10.1111/nin.12326
Tunstall, S. L. (2016). Historical perspective—weaving the lives of Florence Nightingale and Florence Nightingale David into the statistics classroom. Teaching Statistics Trust, 38(3), 83−86.

Scott Ramsay, RN, BSN

Scott Ramsay is a doctoral student at the UBC School of Nursing and a registered nurse at BC Children's Hospital. He is currently working as a Registered Nurse with Provincial Health Services Authority, assisting with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. His research at the School of Nursing focuses on the follow-up care of children and youth who sustain a concussion.

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