Many Catholic University nursing alumni are finding themselves on the front lines while treating patients with COVID-19 in hospitals around the country. Mary Yep, a 2015 graduate of the Conway School of Nursing, recently shared her personal account of working as charge nurse in an emergency room during the coronavirus pandemic and how her experiences at Catholic University are helping her to become a better nurse.
Yep, who has worked as an ER nurse in Illinois since graduation, says she’s “loved every minute” of her job, especially the “close team dynamics” in her unit. In the past few years, she’s advanced her knowledge and skill base by becoming a charge nurse and obtaining certifications as a trauma nurse specialist and emergency communications RN. She’s also explored the possibility of flight nursing and has been able to participate in ride-alongs with medics in helicopters.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Yep has been working closely with her manager and a few relief charge nurses to manage the inflow of coronavirus patients. At this time, she says, the team is essentially running three different emergency rooms: a regular ER for medical patients, a drive-thru testing facility where patients can drive through the ambulance bay and be swabbed for COVID while remaining in their cars, and a disaster tent in which any patient with respiratory distress is swabbed for COVID and either admitted to the ER or released.
“It’s been a bit of a stressful time but also neat to be on the front lines,” says Yep. “It’s been such a blessing to see our community come together and support us at the hospital. I joke that in the ER, we really see people at their worst, and over and over again … we can get pretty jaded most days. Seeing the loads of people bringing food, thank you notes, and gifts to the ER has been overwhelming.”
The experience has not been without challenges. In the early weeks of the outbreak, Yep and her team were frustrated by the strict requirements for testing, which mandated patients to fall into very specific categories before they could be swabbed for the virus. More recently, her team has begun running out of personal protective equipment like N95 masks and powered air-purifying respirators.
“What do you do next?” Yep says. “How do you handle multiple airborne-precautions/COVID rule-out patients with one negative pressure room? All these scenarios have had us really thinking on our toes and pulling together to find solutions.”
The outbreak situation has also brought to mind ethical questions for nurses who are worried about exposing their families and friends to the coronavirus.
“Many of the nurses I work with have small kids at home,” she says. “It’s been a moment to really step back and say, ‘We are nurses. This is what we do. We are taking the appropriate precautions for our safety, but it is part of our calling to be there for our patients.’”
Looking back on her time at Catholic University, Yep says she is thankful for the guidance of her professors, who — as working nurses themselves — could share real world experiences and practical scenarios in the classroom.
“You were able to give us ‘boots on the ground,’ real life scenarios that helped us apply whatever we were learning,” Yep says, singling out her clinical instructor Jane Taylor. “I will never forget when we had four nursing graduates come talk to our class. It was so helpful and helped keep us focused on our goal.”