“Time management has been my best friend,” says Nurse of the Week Cailly Simpson. Although she left nursing in 2017 to study law at Rutgers, when the pandemic hit, the 26-year-old immediately felt an instinctive need to help. While continuing to work two days a week at a law firm and attending six hours of classes, the future malpractice lawyer wielded her time management skills and expanded her schedule to add four 12-hour shifts a week at NYU Langone Health.
Langone was familiar ground to Simpson, who worked there in the pulmonary and step-down units after receiving her nursing degree in 2016. The decision to make a two-month return to nursing—despite being just a few months away from finishing her legal studies—was not difficult. Simpson told NJ.com, “I felt like this was something that needed to happen. I went to nursing school with the thought process that I wanted to help people and take care of patients so that’s just kind of how my brain works.”
Simpson’s shifts as a float nurse were grueling, and she saw little of her boyfriend, family, or friends during her COVID nursing stint. However, revisiting her old profession has its rewards: “People truly want to help. They want to send these people home to their families. The attitudes with everyone I have come into contact with is what really has struck me. Everyone has every right to be completely terrified and not want to do this and complain about it. That was never ever the case. I never came across that. Everyone was always up and ready to help and wanted to be there giving it their all. Walking into that attitude made everything so much less scary.”
Summing up her eight-week combination of law studies with nursing on the COVID frontline, Simpson told the Rutgers Law newsletter, “It was hard to balance with finishing up law school but I would not have changed my decision for anything. I have truly enjoyed being back, even during such challenging times. The nurses were incredibly thankful for all the extra help they received. . . They are incredible individuals who have powered through this crisis with a smile on their faces the whole time and have continued to put patient care first.”
For a full story and interview with Cailly Simpson, visit NJ.com.
Following the May 25 death of George Floyd, nurses and other healthcare providers have been taking action not only to protest the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police, but also to draw attention to the severe knock-on effects of racism on the health of Black communities, including an inordinate rate of mortalities from heart disease, diabetes, COVID-19, and other illnesses. Braving the risks of coronavirus, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets, nurses, who often see the fruits of social inequality at firsthand, have provided protestors with first aid as well as taking part themselves.
Nursing organizations have joined individual nurses in speaking out. American Nurses Association President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN issued a moving statement, in which he remarked, “As a black man and registered nurse, I am appalled by senseless acts of violence, injustice, and systemic racism and discrimination. Even I have not been exempt from negative experiences with racism and discrimination. The Code of Ethics obligates nurses to be allies and to advocate and speak up against racism, discrimination and injustice. This is non-negotiable…. At this critical time in our nation, nurses have a responsibility to use our voices to call for change. To remain silent is to be complicit.”
“You clapped for us. We kneel for you.”
A mingling of professional training and empathy moved nurses such as Miami RN Rochelle Bradley to take a knee in remembrance of Floyd’s death. Bradley told CNN that “Kneeling here today for nine minutes and knowing that that’s how long George Floyd was on the ground with his airway compromised really bothered me as a nurse.”
For healthcare workers, the protests also reinforced their sense of unity in the era of COVID-19. In Boston, nurses who gathered to kneel in front of Brigham and Women’s Hospital carried a sign reading, “You clapped for us. We kneel for you.” One nurse interviewed, Roberta Biens, said, “I just want everybody to know they’re not alone, we’re with them and we’ll stand in front of them or behind them, wherever we need to be to support them.”
Minneapolis nurses appeared in force at the protests. One local ER nurse told the Insider, “COVID is a temporary and critical health crisis. Racism, through violence and disease, has been killing our patients since the hospital was built and will continue killing them long after COVID is gone.” And in an official statement, the Minnesota Nurses Association said, “Nurses continue to see the devastating effects of systematic racism and oppression targeting people of color in our communities. We demand justice for George Floyd and a stop to the unnecessary death of black men at the hands of those who should protect them.”
Hospitals in New York City united to stand behind the protests. The Gothamist scanned official Twitter posts and noted, “The six major hospital systems in the city–NYU Langone Health, Mount Sinai Health System, New York-Presbyterian, NYC Health + Hospitals, Northwell Health, and Montefiore Health System–have all posted publicly in support of the demonstrations…”
Weighing the Call to Civic Action Against Public Health Concerns
Medical practitioners are understandably divided about engaging in public assemblies while the coronavirus is still at large, but many believe the risk is worth taking. On June 8, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “WHO fully supports equality and the global movement against racism,” but added, “As much as possible, keep at least 1 meter from others, clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest.”
Asked by Health.com about the danger of public protests, Natalie DiCenzo, an Ob-Gyn resident in New Jersey, responded that “the risk of remaining silent and complacent in the face of racism and police violence is also deadly. I believe that with the proper precautions, these protests can be done relatively safely when it comes to COVID-19.”
Nearly 2,000 US “public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders” also expressed direct support for the national protests in a widely circulated June 4 letter (initiated by faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine). Following a statement that “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter recommended a series of safety measures to protect protestors from the virus. Among other issues it urged “that protesters not be arrested or held in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission, “ and that no use be made of “tear gas, smoke, or other respiratory irritants, which could increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection…”
On Twitter, nurses participating in the protests offered their own practical suggestions. A DC pediatric nurse told attendees to bring gloves, sunglasses or goggles for eye protection, and “an extra mask. Yours will get hot and sweaty so switching it out halfway through is smart. If you have a cloth mask throw a bandana on top too…” Following participation in protests, some nurses have also taken the step of self-quarantining for two weeks.
In the COVID-19 hotspot of New Jersey, nursing students can experience an unexpected supplement to their education. As a junior at Seton Hall, Cara Underwood has been a nursing assistant since December. When she started work on the cardiac unit at St. Peter’s University Hospital, life and work took place in a different world to the one she is in today.
At the end of February, though, Underwood’s floor was converted to a COVID-19 step-down unit for patients who had emerged from the ICU or whose symptoms were not acute enough to require intensive care. Since then, she has seen enormous changes. As the pandemic progressed, her workweek expanded from 24 hours to 40 hours, and her responsibilities have grown at an accelerated rate. With the progression of the virus, everything seems to be changing. As Cara explains, “No one on my floor has ever died during my shift and I worked a lot before this. Normally… they end up in the ICU and the ICU is where you see the deaths. But we’re just seeing it happen so quickly and also the ICU is so full that we’re starting to get those more severe cases on my floor.”
The rapid spread of the virus is providing the nursing junior with a crash course: “We’re really seeing the rapid deterioration in these older folks, you know, 60 and older where we’re just unable to keep their oxygen saturation up.” And working outside the ICU is no longer insulating her from encounters with code blues. Underwood remarks, “Over the weekend we had two deaths, which, like I said, I’d never seen one before as a nursing student. I mean, you have two back to back. It was unreal.”
She is also facing at firsthand the shortage of PPE, and a fellow nurse and her family tested positive for the virus and required hospitalization. Of the lack of PPE, Cara says, “It just seems unreal how that’s supposed to be protective for us. It’s scary. But we’re working with it. I mean, they say this is what we signed up for. I’m not sure if we signed up to be unprotected while we’re in the workplace, but we try to do our best.”
However, this trial
by fire has not succeeded in dampening her passion for nursing: “I’ve
always known I wanted to help people. And the truth is when, when I’m
in those rooms and I’m helping these people I know that it’s what
I’m supposed to do…. Before I worked in the hospital, [nursing]
was this thing that I was working towards, you know? Getting to be a
nurse and caring for people. And now that I’m on the battlefield,
so to speak, it’s more of a reality. It’s not the perfect nurse
life that I may have envisioned but I know I’m still supposed to be
For more on Cara
Underwood’s experience at St. Peter’s Hospital during the
pandemic, see her interview
with the Seatonian.
Nurse of the Week Lissa McGowan has treated countless premature infants during her time at New Jersey’s The Children’s Hospital NICU at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, but this is the first time she has treated both a father and his son.
New parents Renata Freydin and her fiancée David Caldwell
were understandably anxious when their baby Zayne Caldwell entered the world 10
weeks early on January 30.
Owing to his early entrance, little Zayne was admitted for
treatment in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Children’s Hospital at Saint
Peter’s University Hospital, while his parents waited for his condition
to stabilize. “It’s the hardest thing I ever had to do: to leave here
without him,” Freydin said. In their time with Zayne in the NICU, Freydin and
Caldwell took plenty of photographs of their baby to keep them company while
they awaited his arrival home.
A few days later, while perusing their photos, the new
parents fell into a discussion concerning Zayne’s family resemblance: did his
looks favor his mom, or did he look more like his dad? “Me and her [Freydin]
kept going back and forth: ‘He looks like me. No, he looks like me.’ So, I was
just like, ‘I’m gonna go get my baby book and settle this,’” Caldwell said.
But as they examined the photos, the matter of who Zayne
looked like was soon replaced by curiosity about a different similarity: the
nurse holding Zayne in one of the pictures bore a striking resemblance to the
nurse holding David Caldwell (who was also born prematurely) in one of his baby
photos! “I saw the picture and I knew right away it was nurse Lissa,”
Freydin said. “He didn’t believe me and said ‘no way, it’s not
possible.'” However, it was indeed possible; they soon discovered that the
nurse pictured with both babies—despite the 34-year passage of time—was Lissa
McGowan, who has worked at The Children’s Hospital for 38
years, remarked upon the unusual coincidence to My
Central Jersey, “We have so many babies who cross our paths, and we have
had many who say they had a relative here, but it’s never hit so close to home
where it is father and son, not for me.”
For more details on this multigenerational event, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Yolanda Nelson, an alumna and nursing professor at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) who created a proven system to keep black nursing students in school. Her program Moving Forward Together was launched as a mentorship program to help black nursing students overcome barriers to entry in the nursing profession.
The US is rapidly growing more diverse, making the care provided by nurses of color especially valuable. According to Nelson, people of color often seek medical care with providers who are of the same race or ethnic background.
The number of black nurses is low at most healthcare facilities and black students comprise a small portion of nursing students nationwide. This is largely due to barriers to entry including inadequate academic preparation in high school and a lack of diverse faculty in the field.
Nelson tells news.tcnj.edu, “As a student at TCNJ, I didn’t have any role models who looked like me. It would have helped if I had a mentor to encourage me.”
Nelson has thrived as a case manager and practicing clinician and served in leadership roles at several hospitals in New Jersey throughout her career. She has personally witnessed a lack of mentoring as another road block to increasing diversity in nursing and healthcare.
To help address this issue, Nelson launched Moving Forward Together when she joined TCNJ’s faculty in 2017. Moving Forward Together is a mentorship program that matches TCNJ’s black nursing students with working black nurse mentors, some of whom are alumni. Mentors are “someone they can lean on” in dealing with a professor, developing study skills, or finding their first job. So far, Nelson has matched 30 students with mentors and has seen six participants graduate.
To learn more about olanda Nelson, an alumna and nursing professor at The College of New Jersey who created a proven system to keep black nursing students in school, visit here.
Rutgers University–Camden recently announced a new program which will prepare military veterans for civilian careers as nurses who will care specifically for other veterans. The program is funded by a three-year, nearly $1.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Military veterans are uniquely equipped to care for other veterans thanks to their shared experiences like overseas deployments, a demanding lifestyle, and challenges such as health problems or needing to find a new career when they transition to civilian life.
The new program being offered at Rutgers University–Camden is the only program of its kind in the Delaware Valley and the state of New Jersey. The program is called Veteran Nurses in Primary Care and focuses on understanding veterans and preparing veterans for a career as a civilian. The program will also focus on providing education to community-based primary-care registered nurses and other clinicians, nursing faculty, and clinical instructors to help meet the needs of veteran clients.
Kevin Emmons, a Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden clinical associate professor and a U.S. Army veteran who currently serves as a member of the Army Reserve, tells news.camden.rutgers.edu, “We recognized a need for health-care services for veterans that would help bridge the relationship between them and the health-care provider. One of the best ways to do that is by having the health-care provider, and in this case the nurse, be a veteran themselves. This can instantly build a bond between the veteran client and nurse.”
Applications are currently being accepted for the first cohort of students who will begin taking classes in the fall semester. The first cohort will include eight students, the second year of the program will increase the number of students to 12, and the third year of the program will accept 18 students.
Rutgers University–Camden is the only higher education institution in New Jersey to earn the distinction of being named as a Purple Heart University by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The honor recognizes the university for its services to veterans and their families. Veterans participating in the program will receive comprehensive support to assist them in their students, including mentors and advisors from the School of Nursing and the university’s Office of Veterans Affairs.
Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden students usually perform their clinical rotations in community and hospital settings, but through the Veteran Nurses in Primary Care program, students will learn while working at the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services, Cooper University Hospital, the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, and Volunteers of America’s Home of the Brave program.
To learn more about the Rutgers University–Camden’s new program which will prepare military veterans for civilian careers as nurses who will care specifically for other veterans, visit here.