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Resilience Is Not Enough

Resilience is a word we have heard often in the past 24 months, particularly in relation to nurses and health care workers and their ability to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resilience has been defined as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors."1 Resilience encompasses emotional, physical, and community aspects2; while resilience primarily involves overcoming challenges, it can lead to "profound personal growth."1 COVID-19 has been one long test of individuals' resilience.

While resilience can be built and developed, it is unrealistic to expect that any individual’s resilience alone is enough to be able to withstand and function in the current health care environment. During the pandemic, many health system senior leaders have encouraged nurses to strengthen their resilience, providing some resources and support to maintain healthy mental and physical lifestyles. Meager attempts at individual support, however, do not negate a health system's accountability to resolve unhealthy work environments and unsafe working situations, including violence at work, that result in prolonged stress and distress for health care workers. Providing resources such as health care apps and grocery delivery services without addressing the underlying issues is unacceptable. We continue to endure a staggering COVID-19 health care crisis that impacts frontline workers and leaders. Unhealthy work environments existed before COVID-193 and have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Department and frontline leaders find themselves caught between recognizing staff distress and inadequate working conditions and being required to follow organizational decisions made by senior leaders who appear to have insufficient insight into the impact of their decisions on workers.

Health care workers are exhausted, mentally and physically. They must build and develop resilience for their own personal well-being, but also so they have the physical and mental fortitude to be at the decision-making tables of their health care organizations and engage in crucial conversations, collaboration, and advocacy to ensure meaningful and long-lasting change. This nurse investment will result in not only optimal outcomes for patients but also for health care workers who must have the emotional and physical health to care for them.

Mary Fran Tracy, PhD, RN, APRN, CCNS, FCNS, FAAN 


  1. American Psychological Association. Building your resilience. February 1, 2020. Accessed January 22, 2022.
  2. Everyday Health. What is resilience? Your guide to facing life's challenges, adversities, and crises. 2022. Accessed January 22, 2022.
  3. Kleinpell R, Moss M, Good VS, Gozal D. The critical nature of addressing burnout prevention: results from the Critical Care Societies Collaborative's national summit and survey on prevention and management of burnout in the ICU. Crit Care Med. 2020;48(2):249-253.
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