UMO Nursing Students on the Front Lines of COVID-19

UMO Nursing Students on the Front Lines of COVID-19

MOUNT OLIVE-We have all likely been watching the daily news with images of frontline healthcare professionals doing their best to combat COVID-19.  They appear stressed, over worked, and worried.  Yet, they return day-after-day and give 100% of themselves to fight this horrendous pandemic. They do it, not only because it is the job they are trained to do, but also because they have a passion for healing and helping those that cannot help themselves.

Many University of Mount Olive BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) students are among those on the front lines. Crystal Hash, Elise Overstreet, and Brooke Nolen are three of those students.

Crystal Hash lives in Mebane and works as a Registered Nurse at Duke Regional Hospital Emergency Department.  In the nine years that she has been with Duke, she has never experienced anything like COVID-19.

“Most of us went into the healthcare profession to help people, yet most of us never thought the possibility of facing something like a deadly pandemic still existed,” she said.  “There was always a thought that scientific evolvement had surpassed the pandemic possibilities.”

Hash, like many of her colleagues, now works between 50 and 60 hours per week.  “We spend more time at work than with family, each of us missing our loved ones,” she shared.
Understandably she worries about all of the stressors coming her way, and protecting her own family.  “Keeping up with home life, school life, and work feels impossible some days,” she admits.   “Disease has never been as real as it is now.  Decontaminating by removing clothing before walking in the house, and showering every single day before hugging my loved ones has become a daily norm instead of an exception.”
Hash is expected to graduate from the University of Mount Olive in May with her BSN degree.  Her future plans include pursuing her master’s degree in administration, but right now, she is just focusing on one day at a time. 
Elise Overstreet of Burnt-Hills, NY works at Lynchburg General Hospital in Lynchburg, VA.  She is a Registered Nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit.  Her work unit, as well as those of the sister ICU’s in her area have been converted to COVID-19 units.
“We have designated warm zones and hot zones,” she said.  “Once you’re in the hot zone for your shift, you do not leave.”
For Overstreet this means performing total care independently to those “hot zone patients.” This prevents others from needing to enter the room. With no visitors allowed at the hospital, Overstreet also spends a good part of her shift updating family members on the status of their loved ones.   
“Most of my patients are too sick to realize who is around them any longer,” Overstreet shared.  “However, I take the time to FaceTime multiple times a shift, just to encourage families that their loved ones are not alone and that we are doing everything we can to help them.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Overstreet felt assured that she knew how to handle respiratory distress and viral pneumonia.  After all, she had worked in critical care for five years.  “The surprise was this virus really doesn’t act the same,” she said.  “I have to constantly re-think how I practice.”
On her days off, Overstreet researches emerging evidence from the CDC and consults with other ICU nurses in her area. “The fear and doubt is real,” she said.  “I worry that I cannot save my patients, and that I won’t be able to perform the way I am needed in a low-staff environment. I am also utterly petrified that I will infect my baby or my husband.”
Although her fear and anxiety are at heightened levels, Overstreet notes that her spirits are kept high by the support given to healthcare professionals.  “The community is supporting us with food, drawings, and notes. We feel supported and encouraged to fight this. All the staff is supporting each other as well.  Despite the underlying fear and sadness, we are staying positive.”
Overstreet is in her last online class with UMO.  She is on target to graduate in May with her BSN degree.  She plans to continue her education and pursue her MSN degree in nursing education or public health.
Brooke Nolen is currently enrolled in the University of Mount Olive’s MSN program and is on target to graduate in May of 2021.  From Henderson, NC, Nolen is employed at Beaumont Troy Hospital in Troy Michigan as an Assistant Nurse Manager in the Progressive Care Unit. 
“Detroit Michigan is very bad right now,” she said.  “It is heartbreaking and devastating for both the general public and healthcare workers.”
Many of the patients being seen have to be intubated and are very sick.  But not all of those being seen fit the age and co-morbidities category. Often patients are being tested multiple times before the test comes back positive. Seeing the daily rise in death tolls makes Nolen more self-conscious than ever with safety precautions.  “I don’t make any unnecessary stops before or after work to limit the risk of contamination from my scrubs and shoes,” she said.   
She also practices strict social distancing when not working.  She has vamped up her laundry steps to include using disinfectant with each load.  And, she cleans the shower with disinfectant after each use.  Nolen advises adherence to stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the virus.  Ordering groceries online, picking them up curbside, and going through the pharmacy drive-thru are all sensible precautionary measures to keep frontline workers and the general public safe.  She also relies on her faith to keep her spirits up, “God has a plan, and He works in mysterious ways. You have to trust in Him,” she said.
Overstreet agreed, “I couldn’t do any of this without my faith.  I do believe that is the silver lining here. My faith has grown so much through this.  All we can really do is trust in the Lord.”

“God bless all nurses,” said UMO Founding Chair and Associate Professor of Nursing Chair Dr. Joy Kieffer.  “In their selflessness and strength, nurses choose to serve and care for those that are afflicted with the virus, even though doing so may put them and their loved ones at risk.  All of us at UMO would like to thank the nurses who run towards the line of danger as the rest of us retreat into the safety of our homes.”

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has education service centers in Mount Olive, Jacksonville, New Bern, Research Triangle Park, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Washington, and Wilmington. For more information, visit