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NOVA Nurse prepares for worst, hopes for best and takes care of her patients

NOVA Alumni Lisa McKean

This is National Nurse’s Week, and NOVA has a lot to be proud of in its nursing and healthcare graduates.

Lisa McKean graduated from NOVA’s Nursing program in May 2019, passed the NCLEX (the Nursing licensure exam) in June 2019 and started working on a hospital Medical-Surgical unit in July 2019. As a student, she was 2018-19 Nursing Student Association President and a 2019 SEAL Award recipient. The SEAL Award is a NOVA student award that recognizes exceptional service, engagement, academics and leadership.

Married for 18 years to Jack, and mom to three kids 17, 15 and 14 and two dogs, a toy poodle named Sammy and a German Shepherd named Nala, Lisa is a resident of Arlington—although her husband and kids are staying in a family home in Delaware while she continues work at Virginia Hospital Center, one of NOVA’s close clinical partners. Lisa works med-surg, with a specialty in renal disorders. It’s not all kidneys, though. She sees a lot of neurological, cardiac and gastrointestinal cases as well.

“I’ve learned a lot in less than a year, and I’d like to put out there that med-surg does not get enough credit in the nursing profession,” she said. “People gravitate to pediatrics, emergency care or ICU. But Med-surg is a specialty in itself. If you can handle five to six patients all on your own, then I think you can handle anything.”

Currently working three 12- to 14-hour shifts a week, McKean’s unit was turned into a COVID-19 unit about eight weeks ago. She wears a mask to get her patient report before her shift begins. She prioritizes her patients based on need and reviews labs and medications while she waits for their breakfast to be delivered. She dons full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and, when she is in the patient’s room, she passes them their breakfast, grabs morning vitals and blood sugars, does her assessments, administers medications, assists them to the restroom, tidies up their room and removes full trash bags. And then she does that four more times with four more patients. As you can imagine, there is normally a team of hospital workers and medical professionals to do each of these tasks, but COVID-19 America is anything but normal. It is safest to have just one person do it all.

“This is called ‘clustering care,’ because we work hard to conserve PPE, minimize our exposure and help each other out,” she said. “When I am in a room, I communicate with the team what I can do, so they don’t have to waste a gown.”

When asked whether, as a student, she expected her job to look like this, she responded, “Sort of. I did not foresee managing a pandemic, but I think my nursing school clinicals [hospital internships] gave me a good idea of what to expect in terms of patient load and duties.”

One thing that was drilled into her as a nursing student at NOVA was the importance of carefully and thoroughly assessing a patient at the beginning and throughout her shift.

“What I did not expect was how critical assessments would be with my patients. I may have a patient decline over 12 hours, and a thorough assessment at the beginning of a shift can help you identify small changes throughout the day,” she continued. “I hope my nursing instructors are reading this: You were right! Assessment! Assessment! Assessment!”

When asked how she felt when she saw the COVID-19 disease emerging into a pandemic and she began to realize what would be required of her as a nurse, she responds, “What is required of me as a nurse has not changed. I still have a duty to care for and be an advocate for my patients, to be a responsible nurse and a supportive colleague. I am grateful to work for a facility that has valued our safety from the start. There were a lot of growing pains as the CDC changed its recommendations on a daily basis. But as a nurse, you adapt, be grateful for the PPE, continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and take care of your patients”

“I love being a nurse! I have my hard days, my sad days and a few good days thrown in there, and it is all worth it. I thank NOVA for its standard of excellence and the great instructors that guided me through nursing school!”

Lisa was featured in a recent Dove commercial honoring healthcare workers. Find it here. https://youtu.be/csIerE0578w

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.

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