Studies suggest nurses could use, would welcome more training on disaster management.
Nursing staff, particularly practitioners who are fresh out of school, may have insufficient training to handle a catastrophic event such as a pandemic, water contamination crisis, or mass shooting. According to two recent studies, most nursing students say they are not getting enough emergency response instruction. At same time, professors and lecturers say they are unprepared to educate students adequately about how to provide care during and after a disaster.
The average college or university nursing program only offers about one hour of training on managing disasters. This is woefully inadequate, particularly since nurses need skills and knowledge not only to deal with a catastrophic event while it is happening but to manage the aftermath. The study authors are working to provide resources to boost nursing education and training on these issues. Specifically, these involve educational modules that instructors can use in their classes.
It is important for all nurses throughout the care continuum to have appropriate training and not count on their colleagues in other settings to have the disaster training they lack. For instance, a study from 2018 noted that only 19.9% of operating room nurses had previous disaster experience.
The American Nurses Association has stated that employers “should develop an internal, institutional disaster policy, which takes into consideration the number of registered nurses educated in disaster/emergency preparedness, the number of registered nurses who should be available during a national emergency, and the skills of all registered nurse members.”
In training nursing staff, David Smith, MD, CMD, president of Geriatric Consultants of Central Texas, suggests approaching it as a regulatory mandate. “This can help ease some of your team’s fears and emotions about disasters and enable them to focus on training and planning,” he says, adding, “For instance, you can say, ‘There’s not a chance a hurricane will hit here, but surveyors expect us to have a workable disaster plan.’”
To help nurses and others plan for disasters, Dr. Smith observes, “Anything you can think of to mitigate the worries and concerns that they have about their own families in these situations is helpful.” He suggested that as you are developing your organization’s emergency plan, you should simultaneously be working with staff to develop their own personal disaster plans for themselves and their families. “Think outside the box,” he says, with ideas such as enabling nurses and others to bring their families along if the building or community has to evacuate. When new nurses are hired, notes Dr. Smith, make sure they know what will be expected of them during a disaster or emergency situation.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In an exclusive interview with InFront, Roberta Lavin, PhD, FNP-BC, FAAN, executive associate dean and professor of the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing and co-author of the studies discussed here, said that there is much that HR and other leaders can do to ensure nurses are prepared to handle catastrophic situations. For instance, she noted, “We often find that facilities try to meet the letter of the law if not the intent. Frequently, drills and exercises don’t involve hands-on practitioners and caregivers, partly because these people are so busy. However, it is important to find a way to include these individuals so that they can get real-world practice and experience.”
Disaster planning/response training isn’t one-and-done, Lavin stressed. “Standards change, and people forget things over time.” Therefore, it is important to make training an ongoing effort and to keep it fresh. She also suggested, “Normalize training. Help people understand that it’s important and everyone is expected to do it.”