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Nurse in focus: meet Sherry Chen

We have already heard from nurses at the frontlines in Week 1, and this week we follow the story of Sherry Chen.

Sherry Chen, a native of New Jersey, is a registered nurse in the family nurse practitioner program at Johns Hopkins University.

She answered the plea of the Governor of New York for assistance in meeting the needs of the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in New York City.
Sherry Chen

She posted on Twitter:

“Dear @NYGovCuomo - I received your call to serve and I’m coming home to help my community.”

Sherry, who is wearing a face mask, travelling on a bus to New York, and Sherry waiting for the subway

She traveled on an almost empty bus to face some unique yet rewarding challenges. On her second tweet, she posted:

“The nurse I’m with has worked non-stop with short breaks spent napping in his car. Many staff members are sick with #COVID19 and there hasn’t been any relief. I’ve been asked repeatedly when I’m coming back and if I’m ready to be by myself. It’s only my 2nd day and I wish I could do more.”

For Sherry, finding herself working in a nursing home and managing a whole floor has been a real jolt and a reminder of the scarcity of so many things: personal protective equipment, staff, and time. Here’s her story:

I grew up in the NYC/NJ metro area. I worked in NYC for ten years and obtained my nursing licensure in Manhattan. For me, sitting at home watching my fellow nursing school classmates exhausted on the frontlines caused me a lot of anxiety. I don’t feel like a star or a hero and don’t really know how to respond to such praises. I simply couldn’t stand watching my community and my classmates suffer and feeling helpless, not when there was something I could do about it. Just like in school, I’ve always functioned much better sitting in the front.

I occasionally catch Governor Cuomo’s briefing on television or stream it only and that usually provides local statistics for NYC, but I don’t believe statistics could accurately reveal what it’s like to experience everything first-hand and on the ground. There have been many poignant and eye-opening experiences and I feel like everyday has brought something new.

The facility I am volunteering at is a small nursing home (40 beds or so, distributed across four floors) for people living with HIV/AIDS. On my first day, I was assigned to shadow an LPN who was covering all four floors of the nursing home. We also had a resident who was positive for COVID-19 and had difficulty complying with self-quarantine due to his mental health condition. He would sometimes suddenly come out into the hallway and the staff often had to try to get him to return to his room while being blocked from accessing the PPE which is next to his door. A week later, six more residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and a seventh with inconclusive results.

Sherry wearing makeshift PPE, a large hooded poncho and face mask, over her nurse uniform

New PPE protocols by the facility called for wearing a gown all the time and we were provided with face shields and goggles (but no N95 masks, only surgical masks). There aren’t enough goggles/face shields for everyone and now we are quickly running out of gowns and being asked to reuse certain PPE. Also, the PPE at the facility is not available in my size; the surgical masks, gowns, and gloves are way too large for me, leaving gaps in my PPE. I have made do with bringing my own N95 mask and have recently had to use rubber bands to cinch the gaps at the top of my gloves after blood somehow dripped into the gap in-between oversized gloves and my gown onto my hand.

On my second day as a volunteer, I was called to complete a new resident admission. I had never worked in a nursing home before, never even worked clinically having been a nurse case manager in public health. However, new resident admission assessments must be completed by an RN and I was the only one there. The charge nurse wasn’t feeling well and had left early that day leaving only an LPN and myself. I didn’t even know how to use their electronic medical record and had to have someone walk me through it on the phone as I completed the patient assessment.

By my third day, I was assigned a floor to cover by myself with a CNA for assistance. I never would have thought I’d be in situations where I had to lead or take charge, having been very honest in my volunteer application about the fact that I never worked beside or in a nursing home before. I have had to rely heavily on the training and education I have received and continue to receive in my FNP program at Johns Hopkins to make up for my lack of previous clinical experience.

Two portrait photos of Sherry, one of her wearing personal protective equipment including a clear face shield at work, and one of her outside wearing a face mask and a red hooded coat

Through Sherry’s story, we recognise now more than ever the importance of self-care and the support of peers. We also see how data, evidence and clinical skills must combine for effective frontline healthcare.

What key learnings do you take from the experiences she shares?

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Effective Nursing in Times of Crisis

Johns Hopkins University