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Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 4:45pm

On May 14, 2020 Mercy College hosted a virtual panel discussion consisting of nurses and nursing students from Mercy and the former College of New Rochelle (CNR), as well as an audience of about 80 students, faculty, alumni and members of the Mercy community.

With 2020 designated by the World Health Organization as The Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, the event was held during National Nurses Week to recognize the occasion and focus on the frontline nurses treating patients during the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The virtual panel was a collaborative effort planned and moderated by Dr. Adrienne Wald, associate professor of nursing, in partnership with nursing faculty colleagues Dr. Kathy Kenney-Riley, associate professor, and Sherrye Samuels, assistant professor.

“We knew that graduates of our nursing programs were out there providing high-quality care on the front lines of this crisis and were facing unique situations,” said Wald. “Our goal was to bring them together as a panel for mutual acknowledgement and to share lessons learned with the wider nursing program community.”

As students and alumni from nursing programs at both Mercy and CNR began sharing their experiences treating COVID-19 patients in the pandemic’s epicenter in New York, their stories revealed the extraordinary challenges of facing an outbreak of such magnitude. What also emerged was the tremendous skill, adaptability and dedication displayed by the nursing program graduates, as well as shared pride in the nursing profession.

Kenney-Riley pointed out that, in the early days of the pandemic in New York, overwhelmed hospitals found their protocols were changing “hour to hour.” Panelists echoed this observation. Jeanne Doorley, BSN ’19, said, “Whether you were a new nurse or experienced, we were all figuring it out together.” Sean Conway, BSN ’19, added, “Everyone, even senior staff, pitched in to do what they could.” Nicole Delvecchio, BSN ’19, said, “We were all leaning on each other, especially in those first few days. Teamwork and good communication were so important.”

Participants told stories of dedication and selfless action. Nyssamae Garcia, BSN ’19, shared that “All of us [nurses] kept running from room to room to be with patients so they wouldn’t die alone.” Rebecca O’Brien ’20, said, “Even though many nurses were scared of bringing [COVID-19] home to our families, we were in that room, holding [our patient’s] hand. It made me super proud to be a nurse and to work with the people I do.” Graduating senior Carmen Gutierrez ’20 echoed her pride in being about to join the nursing profession, sharing her compassion for COVID-19 patients she helped treat as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Sasha Winslow, BSN ’11, advocated for her fellow nurses when hospitals began running of the vital personal protective equipment that keeps nurses safe while treating infected patients. “We were protecting each other,” said Winslow. “If we hadn’t, we might have lost many more nurses.”

“The biggest lesson I think we all learned was how vulnerable we nurses are,” said Samuels. “It was hard to realize that sometimes our best is not enough. But it’s like we tell our students: nurses never stop doing everything we can to help our patients.”

Participants in the Zoom session asked questions of the panel and engaged in discussion during the two-hour event. Wald wrapped up by sharing resources on resilience and workforce advocacy and by recognizing the important role of a well-educated and prepared nursing workforce building on the rich legacy of the profession.