GMercyU Alumna Reflects on the Last Two Years as a Nurse

"I strongly believe that the Mercy values instilled in me at GMercyU are the reasons why I can still go into work with a smile on my face, ready to take on anything that is thrown my way."

By Aubrey Cook, RN '17 / '18

In March 2020, I remember going into work and starting my day as normal. Soon, my clinical nurse specialist asked if we had any PAPRs (Powered Air Purifying Respirators) on our floor. I remember asking her immediately, "Why?" With a concerned face she said, "Just in case." At the time, I was assigned the empty negative pressure airborne room, and I soon realized I was at risk for having our unit's first COVID patient.

At first, I was obviously scared. But I knew I was prepared in the best way to face that fear and care for a patient in need. To my surprise, I was not assigned a COVID patient that day, and that room remained empty throughout my shift.

The next week, I found myself being pulled to the COVID unit to directly take care of COVID patients. I felt frustrated because I could not spend as much time in the room with those patients as I would have liked to. Although we were all scared and a lot was still unknown about the virus, I felt like it was my duty to continue caring for these patients.

Fast forward to one week later, I admitted a woman with barely any medical history. She had a fever and a cough and although elderly, she and her husband lived together and were very independent. I swabbed the woman, and she came back positive for COVID. I had her for three night shifts and by the third night, her oxygen requirements had increased so much that I just knew she would never leave the hospital.

A few days after she was admitted, her husband was admitted with COVID. To make a very long story short, the husband and wife both died just days apart. They both did not want the other to know that they were in the hospital with COVID. The family kept their wishes and they never knew that they were in hospital rooms just next to each other.

Yes, there were scary moments, but there were also moments that made you smile, like when the Rocky Balboa theme song would play over the speaker, signaling that a COVID patient had been discharged.

In school, you learn that this profession is not always easy. It's not always happy stories, and you will have some shifts where you will go home tired, upset, and even angry. I believe that if I didn't have these emotions after some shifts, nursing wasn't meant for me. These feelings mean you have compassion for yourself.

Leading with Mercy

If you had told me while I was in school that I would serve as a registered nurse during a historic pandemic, I would have said you were crazy. If you had told me that I would first-hand watch some nurses and other healthcare professionals burn out to the point of leaving healthcare altogether, I wouldn't have believed you.

As a GMercyU nursing student, I was always taught by my professors to go into every shift and every patient care experience with Mercy. You learn about compassion for patients and therapeutic communication with patients. Throughout my four years as a nurse in the professional setting, I have learned that you also need to have compassion for yourself and therapeutic communication with your colleagues and yourself. Take time to take care of you.

If you don't take care of yourself, how are you supposed to take care of someone else?

I am blessed to work alongside people that I consider my family, people who share the same professional values as me and strive every shift to make sure patients' lives are improving. Not only do I use the Mercy values of integrity, respect, social justice and service in my everyday work, I also now incorporate my employer's mission of "We Improve Lives."

I strongly believe that the Mercy values that were instilled in me as a student-athlete at GMercyU are the reasons why I can still go into work with a smile on my face, ready to take on anything that is thrown my way.

I strive to help my coworkers who may be having difficulty and use my leadership skills in my unit to instill my values into my peers, especially the new nurses I am training. These values are intricate tools that help me not only take care of my patients during these trying times, but also myself.

Use these values and add your own over your practice to help your patients, coworkers, and yourself in your career.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of TODAY magazine.