Alumni in Action: Hannah McHugh ’13 G’17 puts her patients and students first

Hannah McHugh ’13 G’17 PT, DPT, CCS discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her work in physical therapy.

Hannah McHugh ’13 G’17 PT, DPT, CCS, is a senior physical therapist at Duke University Hospital, practicing in the Cardiothoracic Surgical and Medical ICUs and on the CT Surgery Step-Down floors, and is a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy. McHugh grew up in New Jersey, receiving her Bachelor’s of Science in Exercise Science from Elon University in 2013, and her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Elon University in 2017. She completed the Duke Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy Residency in 2019.

Currently, she serves as an adjunct assistant professor in Elon’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Education (cardiovascular curriculum), a guest lecturer for the UNC Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and a Lab Assistant for the Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. She is a contributor to Essentials of Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy, 5th edition, has several publications and continues to conduct research at DUH. McHugh serves the American Physical Therapy Association CVP section as a member of the Nominating Committee and previously as a part of the Public Relations Committee.

Throughout the pandemic, McHugh has put her patients and students first by providing exceptional care in her physical therapy practice and sharing unique resources and opportunities with her students.

Read below as McHugh shares the impact COVID-19 has had on her work and personal life.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your day-to-day life and your work?

A: When the pandemic began, each week at work felt like uncharted territory. Guidelines, rules, and requirements were ever-changing, and I felt that I was constantly communicating with coworkers to make sure we were all on the same page regarding PPE and restrictions. Our hospital quickly put together screening protocols for staff members, including hand hygiene, a symptom-based questionnaire and distribution of surgical masks upon entering the facility. The screening has evolved over time and now also includes forehead temperature screening. Day-to-day seemingly has not changed much since the start of COVID, especially in the ICUs, the only exception being the collection of surgical masks that now adorn the rear-view mirror in my car. Social gatherings with friends now occur via Zoom, but overall everyone seems to be making the best of the situation.

Q: Were you teaching any courses that had to transition to online instruction? If so, how was this transition?

A: At the start of COVID, I was preparing the curriculum for DPT 804 Cardiopulmonary Independent Selective. Students were originally scheduled for in-person observations in a variety of settings. Since these observations were canceled, we coordinated healthcare providers to meet with the students virtually, to gain valuable insight and knowledge. We also added in extra resources and lectures on the emerging Physical Therapy literature and evidence for COVID-19.

I am also an Adjunct Assistant Professor for DPT 707 Management of Cardiopulmonary Dysfunction, which typically occurs in the fall semester. Because many clinical rotations were postponed or canceled, this course timeline was moved up in the curriculum. So far, we have been able to hold lectures and labs in small groups, which enables us to ensure that adequate PPE is available and social distancing is maintained.

While this transition initially required significant groundwork and planning, I feel that we have adapted our teaching practices and continue to adequately prepare our students for the ever-changing clinical environment.

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

A: While I am not on the COVID frontline, interactions with patients have not changed much, with the exception of wearing masks at all times. Transplant and surgical patients that are often times immunocompromised, do not seem to be bothered by masks, as it has become almost commonplace and second nature. Our goals from a physical therapy standpoint are to work towards improving patient function and mobility, with the ultimate objective being to safely discharge from the acute care setting.

Q: What have you learned through this pandemic?

A: Two words specifically come to mind when discussing the pandemic and its effects: resiliency and adaptability. Healthcare providers have stepped up and shown how resilient they can truly be in the face of a global pandemic. Healthcare has always been a team effort, but the teamwork truly comes to light when pressed with the added stressors of the pandemic. It is commendable how in every aspect of healthcare, providers and staff adapt to the new set of standards and put the patients first, no matter at what personal cost.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work in their careers and their communities. To share the names of alumni you think should be considered for this series, please fill out the Alumni in Action nomination form.