Brand-new RN, Nurse of the Week Chelsie Turrubiartez didn’t allow anything to stand between her and her dreams of becoming a nurse. Over the course of nine eventful months, the 23-year-old Adel, Georgia resident was hospitalized for Covid, graduated from the School of Nursing at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, passed her NCLEX, and found an RN position at the hospital where she’s worked since high school as a nurse extender. “It’s like a nurse’s aide,” she explained. “I have always wanted to be a nurse, and now it feels really good to be able to do that.”
In March 2020, as much of the world was locking down and healthcare workers found themselves on the “frontlines” of the pandemic, Turrubiartez was busy studying, attending classes at ABAC, and looking forward to graduating with her class. Then, on the very last day of March, she was hospitalized for Covid and began fighting for her life. “The ventilator was on max setting,” she told the Albany Herald. “They put me in the ambulance, and I had to be on my stomach the entire way. I don’t remember the ride at all. I was out of it.” Her condition started to improve in late April, and Turrubiartez was finally able to go home on May 4, 2020. She hadn’t seen her family since March 31, had missed her last month of school, her eagerly anticipated virtual graduation ceremony, and, well, you do not simply bounce back after spending weeks on a ventilator in the ICU.
As she recovered from her frightening ordeal, ABAC gave Turrubiartez the opportunity to repeat her spring semester coursework that fall and graduate on December 3, 2020. “I was really happy when I graduated!” she said. “I didn’t think I would get a chance to do that.” Adding to her happiness that day, during the pinning ceremony, Turrubiartez received the Lisa Purvis Allison Spirit of Nursing Award and a scholarship check for $500. She followed that up by passing her NCLEX, and then, Southwell Tifton Hospital hired their former nurse extender to work as an RN on their general medicine surgical floor.
Now—with some help from that scholarship check—Turrubiartez is planning to study for her BSN as well. For more details on her story, visit here.
Now that Kenyan-born Nurse of the Week Margaret Ruto is on the scene, someone should tell Chris Hansen that there’s a new player in the predator-catching business. One day in 2017, while working toward her nursing degree in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Ruto came across a Facebook post about the closing of a children’s home near her old village in Kenya. The missionary who had run the home, Gregory Dow, fled the country and took shelter… to Lancaster, PA, just 10 minutes away from Ruto’s own house!
Learning that a child abuser had used her village’s children’s home as his personal playpen galvanized her. Between attending classes and studying, Ruto stayed up late to contact authorities: local police. The District Attorney’s office. The State Department. The US Embassy in Kenya. She got nowhere.
The nursing student felt compelled to do all she could to help the youngsters and bring the home’s proprietor/abuser to justice, even if it meant taking time off from school, but fortunately it did not come to that. Still, “I was getting ready to drop out of the [local community college] nursing program to pursue this case,” she told Lancaster Online. “That’s how passionate I was.” In 2018, after classes ended, Ruto flew to Kenya to see her ailing mother-in-law, and began to investigate the situation for herself. Traveling an hour to reach the village where the shuttered children’s home was located, she shuttled to and from the site as she listened to and recorded the survivors’ accounts. According to the Post, “She gained the trust of the abused girls and their parents and took down their gut-wrenching version of events in notepads and videos on her phone.”
The FBI, sped by the evidence that Ruto amassed in her private investigations, was able to wrap up its case against Dow in a few months. In July, 2018, the nurse-detective’s selfless persistence paid off when police arrested Gregory Dow at his home in East Hempfield Township, PA.
Nurses tend to be top-notch communicators, but with families of Covid patients not even able to visit their relatives, misunderstandings can arise all too easily. Nurse of the Week Kandace Williams has—well, not an app for that, exactly, but the University of Arkansas DNP student is creating a guide for families with a loved one in a Covid ICU.
Williams, who is also an ICU nurse at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Dallas, has had first-hand experience as the relative of a Covid patient. Her mother was admitted to a New York hospital for Covid-related issues last year. “It was extremely frustrating when my mom was admitted,” Williams told KUAF, a Texas public broadcast station. Her healthcare knowledge didn’t seem to amount to much when she could not even visit her mother and hold her hand. Being unable to support her mom in person was “frustrating, and gave me a [constant] anxious feeling.”
While worrying about her mother, Williams thought about the enforced separation of families from their hospitalized loved ones, and realized that bad as her anxieties were, it must be far worse for people lacking her training. Thus was born her latest DNP project: a guide that helps make sense of the things families see and hear when paying virtual visits. It glosses the barrage of medical lingo, instruments, and procedures so they can better comprehend what they see and hear during a video visit.
In addition to covering the terminology, Williams’ guide explains what the imposing array of medical equipment is for, and includes a section to record notes on the patient’s status and to jot down questions for the nurse or physician. She told KUAF, “Normally [before the pandemic] they could ask ‘what is this?’ or ‘what does that machine do?’ But they can’t do that now.” The guide, says Williams, “is essentially their way of looking into the ICU without actually being there.” Recalling her own sense of helplessness when her mother was hospitalized, she has tried to demystify the workings of an ICU and its staff so families can better understand what they see and hear during their virtual visits.
Williams’ guide is going to be adopted by her employers, the University of Texas SW Medical Center.
To listen to the KUAF podcast interview with Kandace Williams, click here.
More nurses will not only sit at the table; they will also be gripping the national policy podium in 2021. As President Biden’s Acting Surgeon General, Nurse of the Week Rear Admiral (RADM) Susan Orsega, MSN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN is going to be one of the key US health officials—and Orsega is ready for duty. She’s spent much of her career handling health emergencies and disasters ranging from AIDS to 9/11 to the 2015 Ebola outbreak. The Rear Admiral and infectious disease specialist has been Director of Commissioned Corps Headquarters (CCHQ) at the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) since 2019.
RADM Orsega’s areas of expertise seem almost to be designed for the tumults of the Covid era. After receiving a BSN at Towson University, she began her career at the US Public Health Service (USPHS) in 1989, while the world was coming to grips with the AIDS pandemic. Orsega plunged into HIV/AIDS nursing practice, international operations, health diplomacy, epidemics, and disaster response, while fitting in an MSN in 2001 at the Uniformed Services University (USU) Graduate School of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program. She has been deployed on 15 national and international disaster/humanitarian deployments, including the elite USPHS medical team after 9/11.
In 2016, when she was named Chief Nurse of the US Public Health Service, Orsega addressed nursing students at her alma mater. According to the Towson news post, she told students to “think about how their passions, interests and strengths and their work experiences intersect to find their career focus, an area she called ‘the sweet spot.’ She also challenged them to think beyond direct patient care to what their vision is for their career, how they can grow into leaders on the local, state, national and international levels…”
Prior to joining the Surgeon General’s office, she worked at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At the height of the devastating 2015 Ebola epidemic, Orsega was appointed to the NIH/NIAID Ebola trial operations team and helped lead the first human vaccine and treatment Ebola trials in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Orsega served as the Chief Nurse Officer of the USPHS from May 2016 to March 2019. As CNO, she advised the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on everything from recruitment and assignment to retention and career development of nurse professionals and 4,500 Commissioned Corps and civilian nurses. Orsega has been a Fellow in the American Association of Nurse Practitioners since 2013, and in 2016, she was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing.
Previous nurse Surgeon Generals have included Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, PhD, RN (appointed in 2017), and Richard Henry Carmona (appointed 2002). The White House is expected to announce Orsega’s appointment next week.
Nurse of the Week Ellen Mulkerrins, BSN. RN, OCN has always stood out for her empathy, compassion, and standards of care. The Daisy Award winner cares for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering—with emphasis on the word “care”–and as Michelle Sottile, BSN, RN, OCN said in a moving tribute, “I personally saw Ellen’s true gift when she cared for my own family member. Nothing was too much for her to make sure my family member was comfortable, monitored closely and, especially, could laugh, making his hospital stay easier. Her compassion, kindness and dedication will never be forgotten.”
“All her patients are left smiling, asking for pillows to brace their fresh surgical incisions as they try not to laugh.”
Virginia Pfeifer, B.S.N., RN, OCN, CWOCN, Memorial Sloane Kettering
Life as a New Yorker certainly hasn’t diminished Mulkerrins’ capacity for empathy. She is known for her ability to “sense unspoken needs” of her patients, as well as for her sensitive treatment and support of those who are in pain or are dying. And, as Sottile makes clear, Ellen Mulkerrins will gladly go the extra mile (or two) to lift patients’ spirits and brighten the last days of those who are not going to recover.
One of Mulkerrins’ patients needed all the brightness his nurse could muster. He checked in with a security… action figure—a Hulk doll he carried as he wrestled with his disease and his fears. Mulkerrins quickly became another source of security and comfort as she gained his trust. As he pondered his deteriorating condition and the growing unlikelihood that he would survive, he spoke to her of his partner, saying that he deeply regretted not having formalized their relationship by getting married. So the OCN took on a side-gig, as a wedding planner.
Mulkerrins orchestrated a ceremony that allowed her patient to tie the knot in the hospital. (He entrusted his Hulk doll to her for the duration). There was music; two nurses walked the wife-to-be down the make-shift “aisle,” and some witnesses were so moved that they followed the tradition of crying at a wedding.
One of Mulkerrins’ colleagues vividly described her effect on the unit. A fellow Sloan-Kettering nurse, Virginia Pfeifer, B.S.N., RN, OCN, CWOCN, said, “To Ellen, caring for patients is not just a job but a passion. She treats each patient as if they were her own family. There is no request from a patient that is too big for Ellen. If there is anything she has taught our staff over the years, it’s that the small things count. All her patients are left smiling, asking for pillows to brace their fresh surgical incisions as they try not to laugh. No matter how difficult the day, Ellen’s passion and joy for the patients and their families is evident.”
Delaware is still debating whether to reopen in-person classes at public schools this month, but if they’re ready, our Nurse of the Week, Mispillion Elementary’s school nurse Sue Smith will be ready too.
After 25 years of working for the Milford school district—and seven years of nursing at Mispillion Elementary—the Delaware School Nursing Association’s 2019 School Nurse of the Year is not easily rattled. As the pandemic started to spread last year, Smith’s extensive experience prompted local officials to add her to Delaware Governor John Carney and the Delaware Department of Education’s Health and Wellness Workgroup for School Reopening, where she helped to assess the state’s plan to send kids back to school.
Smith has been ready to return to care for her kids since last fall when Delaware schools opened and swiftly sputtered to a close when Covid-19 cases began breaking out within days. Back when People magazine spoke to the 62-year-old school nurse in September, Smith’s view was quite matter-of-fact: “In my nurse’s office, I’ll still feel very comfortable doing what I normally do. I’ll have my mask and goggles on because I’ll be very close to the children, but I’ll feel very confident doing an assessment. Of course, I think there’s always going to be a level of anxiety for the unknown because this virus is an unknown. We don’t have a crystal ball to tell us everything will be okay. It’s not about if someone’s going to get infected — it’s when. But I truly believe we’re prepared to handle it.”
Mispillion Elementary Principal Teresa Wallace told Delaware State News that she places the utmost confidence in her school nurse. “She’s helped the district prepare and helped our school prepare. She is in the field of nursing and has a lot of background, not just as a school nurse, but in other areas. I feel like her knowledge base is really important in dealing with something that has so many unknowns.”
Smith’s debut in the pages of America’s best-known celebrity periodical hasn’t phased her. Asked about her remarks in People, she said, “All school nurses are feeling the same anxieties and those kinds of things. It’s important to know that in Delaware we’re all trying to work together to help each other.” What does she plan to do with her brush with fame? “I probably will put it [the magazine] in a frame for my granddaughter. That way, she’ll have it for a long, long time.”