Nurse of the Week Sandy Nichols: COVID Frontlines “Made Me a Better Person and a Better Nurse”

Nurse of the Week Sandy Nichols: COVID Frontlines “Made Me a Better Person and a Better Nurse”

This is Nephrology Nurses Week, and our latest Nurse of the Week is RN Sandy Nichols, who treats acute dialysis patients in hospitals in Albuquerque. When there was a call for nurses willing to volunteer in COVID hotspots, Sandy stepped forward and flew out to Chicago. The need for nephrology nurses was urgent: AKI is a complication that affects about 15% of all hospitalized coronavirus patients—even those with no previous history of kidney problems—and 20% of the COVID patients in ICU suffer from kidney failure.

Nephrology Nurse Sandy Nichols, RN.
Nephrology Nurse Sandy Nichols, RN

After parting from her husband and 20-year old daughter in New Mexico, for nearly a month Sandy devoted 12-18 hours a day to caring for Chicago’s COVID patients—and she says she’s ready to go back if she’s needed. Sandy told DailyNurse about her background as a nephrology nurse and shared her reflections on the pandemic and her frontline experience.

DailyNurse: How long have you been a nephrology nurse, and how did you decide on this field?

Sandy Nichols: “I have been a nephrology nurse for eight and a half years and have worked in every form of renal replacement therapy available except for kidney transplantation. I first learned about nephrology nursing during my third semester of nursing school when I was one of two nursing students chosen to go for a week of clinicals in a chronic hemodialysis clinic. I hadn’t decided on the field of nursing I wanted to go into yet so I went in with an open mind. From that first day, I was fascinated by the mechanics of the dialysis machines, the concepts of renal replacement therapies, the dedication and involvement in the patients’ health, and the knowledge that I could be giving my patients life because of the care I was providing with every treatment.”

DN: What were your first thoughts about COVID—and what are your current views on the pandemic?

SN: “When I first heard about COVID-19, I thought, “Wow! That is going to spread quickly through China because of the sheer number of people living so close together there.”  I could’ve never imagined what we’ve now seen here. This pandemic has impacted every human being in some way.

“I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help.”

When Fresenius Kidney Care asked for nurses to volunteer in hospitals because of the rise in acute kidney injury caused by COVID-19, I just knew I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help. Having seen the effects of this virus firsthand, and helping patients fighting it, the most important message I share with people is to take this seriously. Help us slow the spread of COVID-19 by social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands.”

DN: What prompted you to start working on the front lines?

SN: “When I started to hear about all of the different places being hit so hard by COVID-19 and the nursing shortages, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I always had the desire to volunteer when natural disasters would happen but I was never in a position to do so, until now. As soon as Fresenius put out the call for volunteers, I signed up. I knew that I was drawn into nursing to help people and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that then to go and give my fellow nurses support when they so desperately needed it.”

DN: What were the most striking aspects of your experience?

SN: “Going into Chicago, which was known as a hot zone at the time, I was anticipating staffing and supply shortages, long grueling hours, and constant chaos. What was most striking in my time there was the camaraderie that I witnessed and felt every day. The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other. It was so obvious that they were all bound together as one big family. They welcomed me in as one of their own and even invited me to one of their rare potlucks.”

“The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other.”

“I got to see success stories of patients with COVID-19 who survived being on a ventilator and walk out of the hospital. They would announce a “Code Joy” over the intercom and everyone would stop and cheer. I also saw devastating outcomes that broke my heart. Going through those experiences, which I will never forget, gave me a whole new perspective and I truly believe it made me a better person and a better nurse.”

DN: What are you doing now?

SN: “I am currently working in an acute setting at Fresenius Kidney Care in Albuquerque, NM. The camaraderie that I experienced in Chicago has followed me back to Albuquerque because my coworkers are closer to me than ever before. We are there together, going through the same thing, every workday.  I am so thankful for my career and the knowledge I continue to gain every day.  I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without the support of my work family and my home family as well as my community in New Mexico and my company, Fresenius Kidney Care.”

Nephrology Nurses Week September 13-19, 2020
Healthcare Heroes: Dialysis Nurses

Healthcare Heroes: Dialysis Nurses

In honor of “Nephrology Nurses Week,” September 8-14, 2019, Daily Nurse is highlighting two very special dialysis nurses.

At 25 years old, Jackson, KY resident Bridgette Chandler was living with her husband and raising two young children while enjoying a satisfying career as a nursing tech.

Bridgette’s life changed forever after she rushed to the emergency room with what she thought was a case of the flu. Instead of flu, doctors informed her, she was actually suffering from kidney failure. During the long wait for a transplant she underwent arduous four-hour dialysis treatments three times a week.

Despite finding that dialysis made her “a completely different kind of tired that sleep doesn’t fix,” in her determination to remain actively involved with her young family, Bridgette opted for at-home dialysis at the Fresenius Kidney Care clinic in Kentucky. With her home treatments, Bridgette managed to experience all of the special events that happen in a family, from games and recitals to the hubbub of birthdays and holiday seasons. She remarks, “For me, being able to take part in special moments with my family was most important and that’s why I chose home therapy. It gave me the opportunity to take back some of the control of my health.”

Five years later Bridgette found a donor and had her kidney transplant surgery. Even before the hospital had discharged her, she asked her doctor how long she had to wait before she could start school and become an RN. Now, Bridgette is working alongside her former nurses, treating home dialysis patients at the same clinic that treated her. “Because of my personal experience, my intention had always been to become a nephrology nurse” she says. “I stayed in touch with my nurses and doctors who made such a difference in my life. When a position became available in the clinic with those nurses and doctors, I jumped on it.”

Bridgette’s experience also creates a special bond with her patients: “helping patients find ways to make dialysis work for them has definitely been beneficial. I’ve had so many patients tell me they respected me so much more because I understand what they are going through. Many of my patients have even told me that I give them hope.  That is just as important to me as it is to them. That’s why I wanted to be a nurse.”

Anne Diroll was also destined to become a nephrology nurse.

A year after losing her father to a sudden heart attack, 15-year-old Anne was hospitalized for a week after being struck by a car.

During her time in the hospital, unable to walk, and suffering from a “huge hematoma,” she had plenty of time to think and look around. She saw—and deeply admired—the nurses who cared for her, and was inspired by fellow patients stories, learning of “tragedies and hardships in others’ lives that I had never experienced or been aware of at a young age, and [I] thought ‘this is a part of life that needs healing.’”

Anne began her nursing studies almost as soon as she was discharged from the hospital. Initially working as a pulmonary nurse, when she sought a new job, she “didn’t know anything about kidneys, except that they made urine. In my interview for a dialysis nurse position, my interviewer explained that the reason dialysis nurses exist is because [failing] kidneys don’t make urine, so I was able to understand that dialysis is to kidneys as ventilators are to lungs. I got the job and have been a nephrology nurse ever since.”

Today Anne manages a Fresenius Kidney Care clinic in California, overseeing the care of 50 patients.

The American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA) launched Nephrology Nurses Week in 2005 to give employers, patients and others the opportunity to thank nephrology nurses for their life-saving work. In addition, ANNA seeks to interest other nurses in the career opportunities available in nephrology.

About 30 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic kidney disease. The nephrology nurses who treat them make a positive difference in the lives of patients and their families every day. Caring for kidney patients requires nurses to be highly skilled, well educated, and motivated, and nephrology nurses cite the variety and challenges of the specialty as fueling their ongoing passion.

For more information nephrology nursing, the Nephrology Nurses Week celebration, and more, visit www.annanurse.org/

A Day in the Life of a Nephrology Nurse

A Day in the Life of a Nephrology Nurse

A Day in the Life of a Nephrology Nurse

In honor of Nephrology Nurses Week, we wanted to give readers a peak into the daily life of nephrology nurses. Of course, especially in nursing, days can be quite different depending on the patients you’re serving or what department you’re working in. For the following three nurses, though, they’ve presented a glimpse of a typical day in nephrology.

Cindy Richards, BSN, RN, CNN Immediate Past President, American Nephrology Nurses Association Pediatric Renal Transplant Coordinator, Children’s of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama

“The day in the life of a nephrology nurse can vary greatly! Nephrology nurses are more than just technical experts. There are many areas of knowledge that nephrology nurses provide to their patients other than just the technical aspects of dialysis care. Some of those may include the roles of caregiver, advocate, educator, facilitator, and mentor. Nephrology nurses may provide care in a hospital, a physician’s office, a dialysis unit, a nursing home, a prison, or a university. In fact, one of the best aspects of the specialty is the diversity of nephrology nursing roles and settings. Nephrology nurses can also help provide care to patients anywhere along the spectrum of renal disease. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is listed in stages from 1 to 5, so nurses can work with patients anywhere on that continuum. Nephrology nurses’ responsibilities vary based on the setting. In an outpatient dialysis unit, the nurse is responsible for providing the dialysis therapy as ordered by the physician or nurse practitioner, as well as educating patients about their disease, their diet, their medications, and a host of other areas. If the patient chooses a home dialysis therapy, the nurse is responsible for teaching the patient and his or her family members how to perform that therapy in their home. In an inpatient hospital unit, the nurse is responsible for providing the acute care to help the patient recuperate sufficiently to be discharged home. A transplant coordinator is responsible for educating a patient about transplantation, coordinating a team to perform an evaluation to assess for suitability for transplant, and education and support after the transplant.”

Denise Delos Santos, RN, BSN Hemodialysis Nurse, Morristown Medical Center for Renal Ventures, Morristown, New Jersey

“Hemodialysis nurses provide care to patients with chronic kidney disease requiring hemodialysis. Hemodialysis involves teamwork, in which nurses work with certified hemodialysis technicians in giving direct patient care and coordinate their care with the health care team (nephrologists, dietitian, social worker, etc.). Hemodialysis nursing skills involve not only teamwork, but good assessment skills, technical skills, therapeutic communication, collaborative skills, documentation skills, good attention to detail, and leadership qualities. Patients receive dialysis three times a week; patients receive their treatment on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule. My day begins with arriving to the unit upon opening at 6 a.m. and ensuring all safety checks with the water treatment and dialysis machines/equipment were completed by the certified hemodialysis technicians. First shift patients are assessed upon arrival at their scheduled times. In our unit, one nurse is assigned to work with one technician to care for our ‘chair side’ stations, and the other nurse is assigned with another technician to the ‘bed side’ stations. After I perform the patient assessment and document accordingly in our computer system, we weigh the patient and calculate the goal of fluid removal for the treatment. We then proceed to initiate dialysis treatment. We monitor the patients during treatment, obtaining vital signs every half hour, and discontinue treatment when completed. Post-dialysis, we assure that the patients’ vital signs are stable, patients have been weighed, and they are safely escorted out of the unit. We then clean and disinfect each station before the next shift’s patient arrives. Hemodialysis nurses must monitor patients during treatment, assure dialysis prescription is followed per MD order, administer prescribed medications, ensure vital signs are stable before treatment and before discharging from the unit, coordinate with MDs as needed, refer patients to MDs, dietitian, or social worker as needed, refer patients to vascular access center to implement ‘fistula first,’ provide patient education, monitor patients’ monthly lab results, adjust dialysis medications per company protocol, etc. At the end of the work day, we make sure that the unit is tidied up and that all equipment was disinfected and ready for use for the following day.”

Joana Rengstorf, RN-BC, CMSRN, ONC Charge Nurse, Regions Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota

“As a charge nurse in an acute care setting, I begin my shift getting report from the previous charge nurse. We discuss each patient’s needs and plan of care. We review staff assignments for the shift and discuss which staff may need more support based on their patients’ needs as well as the level of experience and proficiency of the staff working. After charge report, I complete chart reviews on all patients on my unit. I review lab results, nursing and provider notes, orders, and their daily schedule (peritoneal dialysis vs hemodialysis vs diagnostic procedures). I then round on each patient on the unit with the staff nurse to review the plan of care and discuss any questions I may have with the staff nurse. If there are urgent needs or questions, I assist the nurses with patient cares or by contacting providers. I then participate in multidisciplinary rounds and discuss treatment plans, help address any difficulty with patient compliance, and review discharge plans.  Throughout the shift I provide support and education to staff nurses as needed.”

Challenges

Because nephrology nurses often work with their patients for months or years, Richards says the biggest challenge is making sure not to cross professional boundaries and maintaining appropriate relationships with people they may see as extended family. For Delos Santos, the challenge is to work with patient compliance. “Patients are expected to comply with their fluid, dietary, and medication regimens,” she says. Despite this, many remain noncompliant, which leads to hospitalization and even death. Rengstorf agrees that noncompliance is an issue. For nurses, it’s also tough to maintain a healthy work-life balance, as working with patients with chronic illness can be difficult. Patients can feel frustrated and have expectations that can take a toll on their mental health and coping skills. This can lead to caregiver fatigue.

The Rewards

“My favorite part of being a nephrology nurse is getting to know the patients and working with my team,” says Delos Santos. “We are a big part of their lives as we are their ‘lifeline’ in providing dialysis. I believe that creating an environment of comfort and feeling at home is an important part of what we do.” “I love working with patients and their families over many months and years. As nephrology nurses, we get to assist the patient with attempting to achieve the highest quality of life they can attain,” explains Richards. “It’s also rewarding to help patients to stay healthy on dialysis in an attempt to receive a kidney transplant and transition from chronic dialysis therapy to a more normal lifestyle with a transplant or to help a patient stay as healthy as possible in order to delay the start of dialysis therapy.” Rengstorf loves her job as well. “It’s rewarding to know the care you provide is literally life-saving. When patients share stories about milestones and celebrations they were able to participate in, it is rewarding to know they are alive for those moments because of the dedication of those in my profession.”

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