In early 2019, the World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.
The public health agency had no idea how prescient their designation would be. Over the past year and a half, nurses have responded to the call of duty to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. They have sacrificed their personal safety, overcome enormous demands at the bedside, and even returned to the field after retiring. A few of UConn’s finest shared experiences from the past year.
By Mikala Kane
Photos provided by subjects
Cynthia Heng ’09 (NUR)
After graduating from nursing school, I worked in the hospital setting for a few years before returning to graduate school to pursue my master’s. I worked in family practice for a few years before moving to Florida right before the pandemic started. This past year, I have been working in urgent care in Miami, where we have been mostly seeing COVID-related cases.
Anika Bennett ’19 (CAHNR)
I am a patient care assistant at Connecticut Children’s in Hartford, and initially, when I was told I would be helping Covid patients, I was nervous because, at the time, there was just so little known about the virus compared to what we know now. But I just feel confident in the hospital’s guidelines and procedures. They give us step-by-step directions for what we need to do, so I never go in there feeling unprepared. It’s a very rewarding experience to provide comfort to patients and their families as we face and tackle the unknown. It’s shown me I want to become a nurse. I really admire the work that the nurses do, honestly. I admire the doctors and the PCAs too, of course. It’s all about teamwork. But it just made me appreciate the work of nurses more, seeing it firsthand.
Amisha Parekh de Campos ’20 Ph.D.
Since graduating in May 2020, events have been a whirlwind. During the final writing of my dissertation and its defense, I had the honor of directly working with COVID-19 positive patients. Our palliative care team helped manage outbreaks and symptoms, assess patients, and use our expertise to work in an ever-changing environment.
In fall 2020, I was offered a joint position as an assistant clinical professor at the UConn School of Nursing and as the Quality and Education Coordinator at Middlesex Health, which was ideal to merge academic and clinical settings. Although navigating the pandemic was difficult, and starting a new position was challenging, I am so happy to have had the opportunity to use my skills and knowledge to work directly with patients and be able to share my experience with other clinicians and students.
Jayme Mandile ’18 (NUR)
I love working in the post-anesthesia care unit at Backus Hospital. The different range of patients, from ambulatory to critical care, keeps you on your toes and every day is extremely different regardless if the types of surgeries are the same.
Over the past year, due to COVID-19, our unit turned into a medical ICU to help support the rest of the hospital. It was a learning curve and stressful, but I tried to soak in every opportunity to learn something new. I was able to work alongside critical care nurses and tried to ask them as much as I could and learn from their experiences.
Samantha Marquardt ’19 (NUR)
I have been an operating room nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital since August 2019 and currently am a part of the transplant team handling kidney and liver transplants. I also circulate (and sometimes scrub into) all different types of surgeries, including robotics, vascular, general/trauma, cranio-maxillofacial, plastics, and thoracic. I have been able to get hands-on experience with Level I traumas, as well as be a preceptor to newer OR nurses.
From April to June 2020, I was sent to the intensive care units to be a member of the prone team. We would flip Covid-19 patients onto their stomachs to improve their oxygen levels. I saw the sickest of the sick during my nine weeks on the prone team.
Lucinda Canty ’20 Ph.D.
Over the past year, I have been sharing my dissertation research findings to address maternal health issues on a local and national level. My dissertation is titled “It’s Not Always Rainbows and Unicorns: The Lived Experience of Severe Maternal Mortality among Black Women.”
I am involved with initiatives that develop knowledge in the areas of diversity and racism in nursing. My experience in developing, initiating, and hosting the “Overdue Reckoning” project has provided deep understanding of what is required for an effective diversity, equity, and inclusion program. This unique initiative was launched in September 2020 to open discussions that focused on coming to terms with racism in nursing – a “reckoning” that acknowledges the reality and begins a process of healing and change.
The initiative featured five weekly Zoom discussions, in which between 110 and 120 nurses participated. In addition to the discussions, I met at least once a week with the co-leaders of the project, Peggy Chinn, Christina Nyariti, and Jessica Dillard Wright, to not only plan and debrief before and after each session, but also engage in our own process of reckoning with racism.
Our program resulted in a monthly support group for nurses and nursing students of color, a documentary film focusing on the experience of nurses of color (in development), a second discussion series for nurses which focused on the book “White Fragility,” and monthly Overdue Reckoning discussions. One of the most gratifying outcomes of this project is the ongoing support group that BIPOC nurses from across North America, the United Kingdom, and South Africa have formed, which includes retired nurses, nurses currently engaged in practice and education, students, and new graduates. The ongoing intergenerational support that has developed in this group is invaluable.
Haley Meier ’15 (NUR)
I stepped into the charge nurse role for the day shift just before the pandemic hit and also found out I was pregnant with my first child. My unit became the dedicated non-Covid unit, and all pregnant/immune-compromised staff were sent to work there. It was a major learning curve. I spent my maternity leave trying to get ahead in graduate school, so now I’m even closer to getting my doctorate in psychiatric nursing.
Mallory and Samantha Edrich ’20 (NUR)
My triplet sister and I became nurses together and are lucky enough to both work at UConn Health! I work on UT 3, and Samantha works in the emergency department. We loved being able to study and experience clinical hours with each other at UConn and now sometimes we even get to see each other at work! Despite the hardships of this past year, being able to become nurses together has been amazing, and it’s all thanks to UConn!
Maureen Groden ’90 MS
This past year has been the most difficult of my career. In March 2020, we faced the challenging task of finding enough personal protective equipment for our staff and the sudden departure of several psychosocial-spiritual staff members. As director of Hospice and Palliative Care at the Holyoke Visiting Nurse Association, I had to guide, support, and educate staff who were worried about patients, families, and their own health. Everything was changing and uncertain. We have survived surges, staff illnesses, and patient deaths. Nurses have been remarkable in their courage and dedication to people who are ill and dying.
Raymond Blair ’20 (NUR)
After graduating, I became one of the first new grad nurses to ever be hired to the STAR Team at Hartford Hospital. Being a full-time float nurse has given me a chance to learn how to function effectively on multiple different units, including Covid-19 units.
Kristen Biatowas ’17 (NUR)
It will be two years in July that I have been in my position as a mother- baby nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital. At first, it was recommended that Covid-19-positive mothers be separated from their newborns at birth, though that has since changed. I took care of one new mother who wore a mask and gloves when holding her new baby, which was difficult to see. I also cared for a Covid-19-positive mother of twins whose husband could not be at the bedside because he also had the virus. She was a new mother, and not having her husband there was tough.
Meghan Wood ’19 (NUR)
I share my birthday with Nurses Day, and look forward to this day each year to reflect on my growth in my career and personal life. In the past year, I’ve completed my first year of orientation while working as a circulating registered nurse for congenital heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. Each day, I’m more amazed by the strength of our patients and the incredible things they can achieve, despite the odds.