Alumni In Action: Nichole McCormick ’18 provides emergency care for COVID-19 patients

The Washington, D.C. registered nurse discusses caring for patients amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alumni in ActionAs a registered nurse in the emergency room at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., Nichole McCormick ’18 faces the unknown every day. McCormick works 12-hour shifts three days a week, sometimes picking up overtime, providing care for emergency room patients who require various levels of medical attention. Her job demands multitasking, time management and an empathetic mindset in order to provide exemplary care for her community.

McCormick enjoys the challenges the emergency room provides, as she is faced with varying medical procedures (ranging from treating nosebleeds to performing CPR) and no matter how busy the day, her team ensures every patient that enters the emergency room is treated with the best care. Recently, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional set of challenges to McCormick’s work.

McCormick shares her experience working in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How has the novel coronavirus impacted your work?

A: COVID-19 has drastically changed my workflow. First, you have the PPE (personal protective equipment). You would be surprised how time-consuming it can be to ensure you have the proper protection, especially when working with emergent situations. We also have a strict no visitor policy in the hospital. These two things in conjunction with the general fear surrounding COVID-19 has made the patient experience much more challenging. There’s definitely a barrier in communication when wearing a mask and face shield. Not to mention, we are still learning so much about COVID-19 every day, and each patient encounter has to truly be individualized. These challenges have helped me to critically think as an RN to make my patients feel heard while giving them the medical attention that could save their lives.

Q: Has COVID-19 changed your interactions with non-symptomatic patients?

A:  At the beginning of the pandemic, it was difficult to determine when a patient had to be treated as a suspected COVID-19 case. It felt as though everyone was being treated to rule it out. Now that we have more information and the research is developing, we have algorithms to help determine if they are treated as a COVID-19 patient or not. This helps to conserve our PPE and other resources. To address our everyday exposure, all staff are wearing masks at all times and are practicing hand hygiene before and after every patient encounter.

Q: What have you learned during this pandemic?

A: When fully dressed in PPE I cannot go in and out of a patients’ room as I normally would. I have learned how to cluster my care and gather all the supplies I need in an effort to avoid unnecessarily leaving the room. I also feel that my communication skills have improved in that I have to go the extra mile to provide comfort to patients when visitors are not allowed. Being a new graduate RN during a pandemic has definitely increased the learning curve but I am so grateful for it. I truly feel prepared for anything.

Q: What is something positive you have witnessed or experienced despite these difficult times?

A: Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. I feel like as ER nurses we always consider ourselves to be team players however COVID-19 has really made us step it up. My coworkers are always asking if I need help before I even have to ask for it. It makes a shift so much more enjoyable knowing I have staff that have my back. I feel extremely supported by my management who are constantly checking on us, as burnout is very common in the ER. The support from the community has been so overwhelming. COVID-19 has pushed me to limits I didn’t know were possible and I am so proud to have been a nurse during this time.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.