On this episode, Kelly chats with Hillary Sexton, Zeta Omega, who shares how she became a burn nurse and then turns to her experiences as a traveling nurse during COVID.
Disclaimer: This transcript was developed with an automated transcription program, spelling and grammar errors may occur.
Welcome to the Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series podcast. I'm your host Kelly McGinnis Beck national president. This podcast is all about sharing the stories of our members and our connection through Alpha Sigma Alpha. Thank you for joining us today. Welcome to the podcast, Hillary Sexton.
I'm excited to have you today and share your story like I am with every person that joins the podcast. I realized I say this every time but I don't know a better way to start the podcast than to say that. But as we get started with each guest, tell us your AΣA story. How did you become a member? Where did you become a member? What what are all the fun details?
Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here today. I actually joined Alpha Sigma Alpha as a collegiate member in 20...06. 2006. I was like, I'm so used to saying like 2020, 2015, I joined in 2006 as a sophomore at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, with the Zeta Omega chapter. I had made a lot of friends on campus with a sorority women that were really active in leadership roles. Specifically, Carly Hatcher, she was a resident assistant of mine. And she was probably like my biggest influence for going joining Greek organization. And it just so happened, she turned out to be in Alpha Sigms Alpha and my big sister. So I was really, really lucky. So that is kind of how I joined because I was like, well, all my friends are doing it. I know, that's not like, the cliché thing people want to hear. But I was like, man, all my friends are doing this, this is something I should probably be involved in too. And I haven't looked back. So that's really great. It's been really enriching for me, and to be involved as a volunteer now in my older days. So that's like my journey.
So you might have said this, and I might have missed it formal recruitment, COB, what was what was that experience?
I went through formal recruitment. And at the time, we only had three organizations on campus with Panhellenic. And I really, really enjoyed it. I had a fun time. I mean, the early 2000s were, were a different kind of breed we did. We definitely had those days where you like, had very extravagant rooms that were very overwhelming. I know, as a potential new member, I would walk in to some of these places, and everybody would be clapping and loud, and there'd be colors everywhere. And I was like, oh, and I'm an extroverted person. But it's still really overwhelming. So having to like go to class every day, and then try to do that at night. Because it was a full week of events. And we also weren't allowed to talk to any sorority woman during that time. So they had to wear like wristbands, and we had to wear wristbands. So they know not to. Yeah, like we could talk in class, like if it was for classmates, but like, once class was over, we weren't supposed to talk to them. Because it was like, you know, you would just reduce the chance of engagement, I guess.
Reduce the chance that omebody promised you a bid.
Yeah, exactly. And so then I went back later to be a recruitment advisor for Zeta Omega. And it had changed a lot. It turned into value space, you know, they didn't put so much stress about not interacting, they put more about making connections. So I really thought that that was a good change at the time. This was around, I guess, 2010 2011, no 2013. I don't remember everything kind of blends together. I started volunteering at like blends, and you're just like, When did I do that?
Very much so.
Yeah, it was really, really nice to see kind of how formal recruitment had changed. In that time period that had been gone. Definitely felt a lot less stressful for the potential new members. I really enjoyed that. Because I know, you know, that's already a time where they're like meeting so many new people and experiencing so many new things as collegians that it was really nice to kind of make that formal recruitment process a lot more engaging and more inviting for them. And then we did continuous open bidding too and I really liked that, because I would always like sponsor the like, be like one of the pre Big Sister sponsors. So I had a good time with that. Because before I became a big sister, I did that twice. And I really, really liked it.
Gotcha. That is is a fun part. I think. I don't know if we still call them Ruby sisters. I should probably know but I don't.
I know we don't and I don't remember what they're called.
But I remember that's what they were called when I was in school. So yes, I am still kind of marveling that they had women on campus wear wristbands during formal recruitment to indicate that they were sorority women. Interesting. I guess it is a very helpful way for you to know. But just, it's fascinating. And those rules are still around, they're around, you know, wanting to make sure that it's a fair process. Although I think the intent behind that rule and the reality really don't align, right. Like, you're essentially being like, Hey, we've been friends. But now you're going to spend this week going through formal recruitment, I can't talk to you. Sounds kind of weird.
It was weird, because as a sophomore, you know, I knew a lot of the greek women on campus Austin Peay, you know, wasn't as big as the time they've grown a lot more. I think they have like six women's organizations on campus now. And I remember like, it was, it was a weird experience, because I did have friends that in class that I was like, Oh, hey, we'd like to catch up really quickly. And they'd be like, how's it going? Like, how are you feeling? And I'd be like, Oh, this and this and this. And then we'd say our goodbyes, and then the class and it would be like, I can't even wave at you in the hallway of these stupid wristbands because.. and honestly, I get the intent behind it. But some people would would actively, like, look for like, oh, they have a green wristband, and you have an orange wristband. How are you walking beside each other in the hallway? Just just and it's just like, um, I don't think that this was really the purpose of this?
I'm glad they moved away from that.
Yeah. Sometimes it's sad women tend to be a little catty.
I should say we're competitive. Maybe that's a better word to say we're competitive.
Very nicely been told we are very competitive. We like to challenge ourselves in new ways.
That's one way of putting it right. Now, I know you've gone on to volunteer in a number of different roles.
Over the years, how did you get involved in volunteering?
I started after I went to nursing school, I got my second I got my first degree in design. And then I went back to accelerated nursing school, with the university in Tennessee, and then once I was like, working professionally and felt comfortable in my practice, I was like, You know what, this is something I always wanted to do. I knew I wanted to volunteer for Alpha Sigma Alpha. before I graduated, I was like, It's time to give back I feel stable and ready enough to give back my time and my energy. And so I approached my collegiate chapter. And I was like, Hey, do you need an advisor? Or do you need some help? Or what are you looking for? What can I do to like, give back, and they needed, they only had one advisor spot open at the time, which is finance advisor. And I was like, Oh, well, you know, I'm happy to lend my time I can learn how to do anything. I feel like I catch on really quickly. And so I watched, I legitimately watched all of the billhighway videos one day, at my boyfriend's house, he became my husband, so works out. But I've watched all of these videos at his house without headphones. So he also got to listen to all the billhighway videos.
So we could employ him as a volunteer as well.
Like, you probably could, he would be great. He's, I mean, like, I'm good at math, but he's great at math. So it was in he was just like, I can't, I can honestly say you watched all of those videos. And I did. And it was a really educational experience for me, because I felt like for the first time I truly understood budgeting. And I had done it before, but I was like, I truly understand it. Now these videos are really helpful. I really, really, really liked them there. And they made billhighway. So much easier to understand than ever before. But then our recruitment open the next semester. And recruitment was something I was heavily involved in when I was a collegiate member because I served on Panhellenic Council as an officer for two years. So I've worked a lot with the formal recruitment process and wanted to get back on that side of things. So I transitioned over into the recruitment advisor role, and really enjoyed that didn't realize how stressful and just overwhelming that was going to be. But it was really nice to work with the chapter at the time, I had an amazing recruitment EC officer who was very organized and very thoughtful of all of the members involved in the process and just was trying to do the most good for the most people. And very, she made it a lot better. And then I had a really good working relationship with the other organizations, advisors on campus as well. I met with them a lot. I went to school with a few of them. So it was kind of nice to see them again. And like work in that recruitment role just for the, you know, progression of the Greek life on Austin P campus. And then then I've moved into Advisory Board Liaison. I've been a region facilitator for a while. And then I actually took some time back back from volunteering, because I was finishing up my master's degree. And just recently started volunteering, again, as an advisory board liaison, for Region 2. So I'm back into volunteering again, I really missed it. I'm glad that I, that now have graduated from my master's degree, and can go back into volunteering, because it's something I really love. And it's so enriching. So I'm happy to be back.
Great, welcome back.
So, you went to school for design, and then you went to school for nursing, talk about how you made that pivot. I didn't know that that was new information.
A lot of people don't know that about me because it's actually in theatre design to so it's very specific design. And
Theatre design? Is that like designing sets?
Yeah, I did set design, I did production management a lot. So just supporting the crew members and providing like operational resources for them. As you would think a production manager might do.
I did a lot with that. But I did a lot of like lighting and set design as well. I worked a lot with stage properties. So you think of all the fluff and tough that's on stage, I did a lot of designing for that I built a couch before, it was really fun,
Like literally built a couch?
Literally built a couch from like wood, and fluff and fabric. So they didn't, we couldn't find the couch that we wanted. So we just built it,
Girl, you are handy.
Well, I don't know if I'd be so good anymore. It's been a while since I've done that. But then like and so my plan was to move to New York with my friend Kelly to she was also in production management. And she and I were going to rent together and then my mom was gonna help me out. But then my mom actually got diagnosed with this very rare form of cancer. So she monetarily couldn't help me out anymore. She actually just stepped back from her job and go into a position that was a little less stressful on her life. So then I moved back home. Because I was like, well, and I can't do this. And I don't really know what my next step is now, so I'll move back home, I'll just start getting theater jobs where I can. But my house was like an hour and a half from Nashville, which is where all the theater jobs are in Tennessee. And it just wasn't monetarily and professionally working out for me. I just was like, this is too far. I can't save up enough money to move closer to Nashville, because theater doesn't pay like a ton. Maybe you're aware. And then I talked with just some people in my life. They were like, oh, you should start working as a tech you can make like $15 like a nursing care tech. You can make like $15 An hour and it's like closer to your house. And, and at the time. I was like, oh, yeah, $15 an hour. That sounds great. And I started working in the healthcare field that way. And it really just was like, I think I like this. And I was like, Oh, maybe I should be a nurse. And so then I transferred to a hospital really got into the nursing side of things. I was like, Man, I wish I you know, I want to do this. I wish I don't think I would have been successful with it with my original degree, I think I wouldn't have been focused enough for the time and energy it takes to complete a bachelor's degree. But what this lady that I worked with, her name is Nancy, I'll never forget Nancy. She was like, Hey, I'm about to be a clinical instructor for this accelerated nursing program. And I was like, what is that I've never heard of this. And accelerated nursing, if you haven't heard of that is for anyone who has a bachelor's degree in any field. You can get a Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree. In 15 months, usually the programs are 15 months, you just go full time all the time back to back, no breaks, and you get your nursing bachelor's degree in 15 months. So that is what I ended up doing. And I haven't looked back since so now I have my master's in nursing education from Duke University. I love nursing. I love nurses. I really, really enjoy what I'm able to do and then it's cool because of my background in design. I have this like scientific rational approach with my nursing. But then I have this like creative different approach that my right side of my brain gets me and it makes nursing that much more fun.
Interesting. So I had heard about the accelerated program because Vanessa David just left headquarter staff to go into the accelerated program at IU to become a nurse. So that was when I first heard about it. So very interesting.
Yeah, I saw that she got that. And I was like, Oh, fun, fun! I've done accelerated there.
It's like, it's like almost like a club within, like, Oh, you did accelerated? I did accelerated. All the stories we could tell.
I can imagine. Sounds pretty intense.
Yes. Yeah. Not to discredit the four year programs. They're great. And they are stressful in their own right. But accelerated bachelor's degrees are another beast.
It's kind of like an executive MBA program that is like condensed into a shorter period of time. And you're like, Whoa, boy. So I imagined something similar. Different but similar, right? Because an executive and nursing degree are different, but I'm the timeframe. And the intensity is what I'm trying to draw a line to.
Oh, yeah. And you don't know what to expect until you're in it. And then you're like, oh, this was not what I expected. They said that this is what it would be. But it's not, it's still not the same until you experience it. So yeah, it is an uphill climb, and it never stops. You know how they say, well, oh, well, things peak off. And then they kind of get steady, accelerated nursing programs, they never peak off. You just keep climbing. And then finally, you reach the like, Pinnacle. And you're like, yes.
So Vanessa, if you're listening, then Hillary's telling you all about what you're going through.
Call me if you need to cry.
There you go. So did you start nursing? So I know that you have a specialty focus in Burns, and maybe trauma? Or maybe I'm imagining that but how did you like how did you migrate in that? Like, did you start nursing first and then decided to focus in the burn unit, or what was what was that path?
I actually when I started applying to jobs at towards the end of school, I knew I wanted to do burns from the beginning. And I had no idea why that happened. We don't teach burns a lot in traditional education based programs, because not everybody's going to work in that field. So you get a base knowledge, but you don't really get a lot of in depth knowledge about burn. And you're right, I do work with burn trauma, critical care. My specialty is burns. But then my other specialty is critical care. I'm a registered critical care nurse, technically, I've served a certification and everything. I mean, it is what it is. But I knew I always wanted to work in that in burn, and in the area of critical care. From the moment I graduated, I was like, I gotta get to this, I started on a post surgical floor. And then went to a wound clinic for a year, which was very eye opening. And then I transitioned and I got a job at the burn unit at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. So I've been working in burn pretty much ever since that time. And I went to the surgical ICU to be a clinical staff leader for about a year. And that's like an assistant manager for the nursing staff. And then then I left to travel in October 2020. But I've only traveled to burn ICU. So I'm back in my specialty. Because I missed it. I love burn. I love burn care. I can't explain it. Why I think if you ask any nurse why they started their specialty, they might have a good reason for you. But other than I just that's what I like to do. And I get joy out of it. And it's just this odd thing. Every nurse is different and they make that connection within their specialty and they're just like, it's just what I love. And you'll hear that a lot with people who like work in labor and delivery and NICU and in trauma and ED they're all just like I just it's just the one I like, you know, so for me it was always burn in and I don't... I love it.
It's kind of I have to imagine that's pretty hard though when you think about the different levels of like, burn and trauma that you can have. I know on the news just the other day they were talking about a little boy who and I don't remember the whole story, but essentially the short version of it was he tossed gasoline on a like bonfire and had burns over like three quarters of his body and it's severe. And I thought oh my gosh, like the graphing and just wound care in general for that. You know, and just thinking about all of that component to it, I think it takes a special person to be able to help those patients get through that trauma.
Yeah, I think and...and honestly, I don't really think about it until I share my stories with other nurses, or I share my stories with family members, or just people in general who want to talk about burn nursing. And I'm like, Oh, well, this time we had this. And then this time, we had this and, and I won't go into too much graphic detail, because those stories are sad. And I remember being at Thanksgiving one time and my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, and I were just talking about, like, what's been going on recently, and I shared this story about this trailer fire in Kentucky, in this unfortunate, very, very sad situation in which three young children had died. And I was like, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know, you don't think about it, when you're telling it. You're just like, oh, well, we're we've been really busy lately. And this happened, and this happened. And then this and then they were like, how do you do that every day? And I was just like, What are you talking about? It's my job. And, and then I was like, Oh, it is, it is a really sad situation. And some of them are obviously worse than others. Like, obviously, when children are involved, it's it's a lot more emotional. And not to discredit adults, but it's just how it is. It's kind of like they're more helpless. And so it makes it...
Every injury with a child.
Yeah, it makes each case a little bit tougher. But then you know, you have days that are good when you get to hear someone's voice for the first time who hasn't talked in like six months. And when you see someone come back, and they're walking in, you're like, I honestly thought you might lose your leg, and you're walking now. And so you got to take those times where you see the impact of your care, and have that gift back. And fortunately, a lot of burn units. Not Not every one of them. But once that a work the peds tend to have pediatric burn camps. And so in the summer, the peds children who are healed, mostly healed or healed, get together in the summer and have a summer camp with other burn survivors, other pediatric burn survivors. So I've been really fortunate to be able to volunteer as a camp counselor with them for about three years. And it's very rewarding to just see the kids embrace. They're just survival. You know, they get to hang out with other kids who have similar stories. They get to share stories with us nurses, other volunteers. So something really cool that I know Vanderbilt does is they invite back some of the adult burn survivors to be camp counselors as well. So there's this very special man named Max, who has been volunteering as an adult camp counselor there for I want to say 10 years now. And he is just the nicest man that you'll ever meet in he I think he's almost 70 now, and he's just he still comes out every year he comes out to be a camp counselor, and he spends all summer in the Tennessee heat with these wild like 40 Wild children running in the sun and he's like, I'm here. You know, I made it this day. I'll make it tomorrow like you so fun, and it's so great to have met him. He actually was discharged right before I started at the burn unit. So just for say he was there for like a surgical contracture release or something. And so I missed him I didn't ever get to be as nurse or work with him does that but he is one of the greatest people I think I've ever met and so I get to do that too. I get to meet other survivors that I didn't touch you know, a hand in their patient care but like now I'm like, Oh my gosh, you're so cool. And like I'm so glad I met you and we're Facebook friends and checks in with me sometimes like, hes so sweet and those are the things that I'm like man what I do is really important and really impactful and and I think it makes going to work and burn ICU that much better each day. And I just love it
Sounds it's definitely sounds very rewarding. Do you, like so, I forgot the question. I was gonna ask you just general like burn that I take on most of them are are they like accidental injuries at home is it you know, some sort of like accident like a car accident or a house fire? You know, kind of takes takes the range I guess it really depends like on the type of fire that brings somebody in.
Yeah, so obviously, and we tell everybody this, no one intends to be burned. So if you think about it any kind of burn injury is an accidental or traumatic injury. So you, so you have this, like actual physical part and manifestation going on. But then you also have the trauma of being burned in some capacity. So it's kind of like a dual role injury because burn is a physical one. And trauma is a mental one. So we're having to like marry those two kind of health approaches of like, what's going on with them on a physical level, but then also, how are we supporting them emotionally, so that they're not constantly reliving this moment in their life in which they were burned in some way. So a lot of like Southern states, how they get burned as gas on brush, so any kind of accelerant on something that can be lit and then is lit on fire. So a lot of those are burned that way. I actually recently did a travel contract at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. And a lot of their burns are from heat and heat heater explosion. So the buildings are a lot older there. And they don't always have centralized heat and air. And then people will buy like space heaters, and they'll catch fire in their spaces. Or when you have multiple people sharing electricity in one building, all hooked up their space heater set up in a room, they caught they end up causing like house fire building fires. So that's where a lot of their burns came from. So it's regionally different wherever you go. But I've seen pretty much I think, every way you can get burned, we had a really bad chemical burn in Nashville one time, that was an 80%. chemical burn. I've seen multiple electric burns or electricity burns. So you kind of like working especially in like big cities like Baltimore and Nashville, you see, like a lot more of just a variety of injuries, because they're larger burn centers. They're going to get those bigger burns because they're like level one centers. Oh, man, I forgot what the original question was. Like how?
That's okay. I think you answered it, which was types of burns and whatnot.
But so yeah, tell us a little bit. So you worked at Vanderbilt, and you took this traveling nurse assignment in the middle of a global pandemic, to another state? Talk about what made you want to do that? And what was that experience like, especially in the middle of COVID, and lockdown and everything?
Oh man, I probably didn't know what I was thinking. So the pandemic started March 2020. That is when the world like we in healthcare, we call that's when the world shut down. Because for us, like we were still going to work. But then like, things were drastically different. Like, it was no visitors, and it was the priority patients only. I was working in the NICU at the time as that clinical staff leader. So it was very, very stressful for all not negating that, but especially as someone working in administrate the administrative side of it, where nurses are coming to you asking questions every day about like, well, what's this now? What's this? Now? What do we do here? And am I going to be able to work and I have a medical condition like I can't work, what am I going to do to get paid? What do you think we should do? And I was like, nobody had a great answer. You know that. That was all of a sudden administration. We were just like, Oh, we're taking it one day, at a time as you and then I was starting grad school in January 2021. So I was like, I don't know if I could handle the stress of trying to like help lead people and guide people, and then also try to accomplish my own personal goals within the world of education. So I was like, man, you know, travel nursing is pretty big. Right now. They have a lot of deficits, a lot of needs, because of the people, you know, the workforce that had to leave bedside nursing because of health reasons. Due to you know, the Coronavirus the economy. I know, my staff personally lost about 10 people who just had to had to, we're a large unit, but 10 people still a lot of people for health reasons. They didn't want to leave the they didn't want to leave a unit. They wanted to keep working, but because of health reasons, they're at higher risk and they didn't want you know, to, you know, their life was more important than that particular job. And I get that. I totally get that. So that was interesting to see. And I was like, well, you know, I'm gonna start this travel nursing because there's always a need for burn nurses. I feel like we're just ICU nurses in general. And so when I started traveling, I specifically was like, I want to go back to burn I want to only work in burn. And then I I took the job in Baltimore. I I was looking at Florida to be honest with you when I was first doing it, I was like, give me Jacksonville or like, give me by the beach. But I will, I don't know what it was, it was destiny I guess it was gonna end up in Baltimore because now I, I ended up falling in love with the city. And it made me then love travel nursing even more, I actually didn't have a COVID patient until December of this past year, in my year in the job, yeah, like...
Well I guess if you're focused on burns
Well, and the burn units that I had worked at, they didn't take COVID patients, because burn is such a high risk infection environment, they they're closed down to COVID patients. So if we had a burn patient come in that had COVID, they went to the PICU. And we manage their burn care, because they were sister units next door. So I didn't I wasn't allowed to take burn patient, or I wasn't allowed to take COVID patients when I floated to other units, because I was a burn nurse. So I didn't have one until I started my general ICU position in December. And I have had a ton since then. And even just working in that short amount of time, the amount of people that I've seen be really, really sick from COVID ICU has just I was just like, you see all the pictures, and you hear all the stories from all your other friends and all your travel friends that are been working bedside with these COVID patients. And you're just like, Oh, I think I can't imagine that. You can't imagine it. It's not anything that's like, imaginable until you see it. And you're just like, how, how is this disease so intense? And how is it doing as much damage as it's doing? And, and I think that was really crazy to see for the first time where it was just like, they look, we look right before I came to I mean, just north of Atlanta right now, out of Birmingham. And we, right before I left, I worked my PRN job, which if you don't know what that means, it's just you schedule kind of less shifts. And I work five shifts in a six week period, everybody is kind of different every facility of how you do that job. So I'm not there a lot. But I think we had six codes in one night.
On the COVID floor?
On the ICU in general. It's just a general ICU, but that's where all their COVID's are. And six is a lot. I mean, usually, you know, you may have like one or two, but we had six in one shift, and all COVID patients and it was just so insane to see. And that's not even the worst of it. Like the place the big cities like in New York, in California, in Minnesota and like all those places that are like really getting hit hard. And I think Michigan was hit very hard for a while. And just like I can't even imagine that until I saw those patients and I was like its unreal what happened to society and then just how the health care world in general.
I think that aligns with all the stuff you've seen on TV from the healthcare field doctors and nurses, you know, pleading with people to stay home, wear a mask, wash your hands, get your vaccine, all those things because of what they've seen. And it's one thing to hear it, you know, and even like you said, it's one thing to hear and say yep, I think I understand that. And then to see it is just something different.
Oh yeah. And then I was I was watching videos on Instagram the other day. And I ran across this one where this nurse was getting off of her shift from, I think the COVID ICU or in the ED, she I think she's an ED nurse. And she said,
What's an ED nurse? Emergency department?
Emergency department, sorry, nurse, ED, nurse, emergency department. And she was like, I'm so ready to for the pandemic to be over. And not just because I want to stop seeing COVID But she's like, we don't have ICU beds. And if you think about what that means, like for our stroke patients, we don't have ICU beds. We don't have nurses to take care of them. For our heart patients. We don't have ICU beds. We don't have patients to take care of it. Because there's so many COVID cases still needing ICU beds. And those patients are so sick not to negate the stroke and heart in XYZ patients who also need ICU beds. But that takes away from other specialties as well. So not only is are we losing people because of this, we're also losing people in other health disparities that we used to be able to kind of combat more against and get in quicker and get through but when there's, our EDs are being overwhelmed, we're running out of beds and ICU, we're running out of nurses to staff these places. It's so hard. And I didn't really think about that before, you know, I thought, oh, man, you know, these COVID patients are so sick and you just want to do the most for them. But then like, you don't think about the fact that like, I have four patients or, we have these four beds that are like COVID ICU, but like, maybe those would have been stroke patients before and like this time, like, we don't have that resource for them. So it's just kind of taken away from like, everything within the critical care world. And not just like, in general, too, but like, especially ICU care. It's been hard because our resources been greatly depleted. And I just thought that that was a very interesting way to look at things. And I didn't really think about that until I saw that video. I was like, Oh, my gosh, she's so Right. Like, we don't have those resources anymore, that we used to have, you know, that were a little bit more available in some capacity pre-pandemic.
Yeah, I mean, we've heard that certainly on the news as well. And so I think you just, you know, bring another human voice to what is happening out there, and the fact that, you know, everybody's, I think it's safe to say everybody's tired of the pandemic. Right, we're all tired of it, and would like to see the, you know, see things I don't want to say return to normal, but get some sort of a new sense of of normal, where it's not like you, people are still on the news every night, you know, saying we're running out of hospital beds, you know, we're running out of ventilators, we're running out of this, we're running out of that, certainly not to the extent it was a year, a year and a half ago, but still like to hear certain areas and states saying, you know, we're out of work capacity, just to be able to see the transmission rate decrease in some way.
Or do some kind of new change that's a little bit more helpful. I was actually, somebody was talking to me about I don't even remember, it was a it was one of my students. Because I work as a clinical instructor on the side. I'm not doing that. As a clinical instructor. I think somebody was like, What do you want to see at the end of this pandemic? I was like, I hope, I just want our hope to be restored. And I don't know in what capacity hope is different for everyone. But I think like, I just that's what I want to see. Because I remember like, so my husband, who is a teacher, he got quarantine, you know, the school shut down. They did virtual learning. He was quarantined at home for like, the longest time. And I was going to work every day still, you know, working four days a week going to work every day going to the hospital every day. And we it was almost like two different worlds.
Yeah I bet.
I didn't go anywhere but the grocery store and the hospital. And he went nowhere, because I could go to the grocery store. So
So what are you.. Sorry, go ahead.
No, I he got a little stir crazy. And I was like, oh, man, I just want to stay at home.
Grass is always greener on the other side, right?
So were you like what we heard and saw about on TV where you came home and took all your clothes off, like outside, like in the garage before you stepped in the house or something.
I was very fortunate that my house the garage, goes into my laundry room. And then when you come out of my laundry room, my bedroom for it there. So I went from car, laundry room strip shower, like in that order, no stopping, like, was very diligent about I think I was already being more nervous. So I think I'm already like, Oh, I gotta get clean. But even more so than I was like, my shoes never came inside. Because like before, maybe I would like take off my shoes in the laundry room. And now they didn't even like come out of my car. Like I would take off my shoes in my car change into some sandals that I had in my car. And so really like my shoes only touch hospital floors. And..
And when did all that change?
I wouldn't say probably I think maybe May of the pandemic where it was like, Oh, this is because for Tennessee. I mean we didn't even I think we didn't even do mandatory masks until around May for health care workers. Like in...
Yeah. And then we added eyewear a little bit later. So it's kind of like progressively. I think if you were doing bedside, you had to wear a mask in the room. But then when like when you were in the hallway like you didn't have to wear a mask. It kind of all blurs together. Don't quote me on that. Cuz it's like, every day was the same for a long time. And then every day was changing. So you're like, do we have to wear masks today? Do we have to wear N95 today? Do we have to wear head wraps today? Do we have to wear eyewear today? So like, it was, it was hard for those changing everyday to. But I think for me, like, probably a lot of nurses, you'll say we were always stripping stuff, we like to get out of those scrubs and get them in the laundry. So that wasn't too much of a change. But I know, I know, some families and nurses and healthcare professionals had to isolate from their, their family, just their family they live with, they would get hotels or they would stay at somebody's house that was also quarantining or with other nurses, you know, because they didn't want to bring that home to their family, especially the people who were working strictly with, you know, COVID ICU patients. And I can't imagine going through that taking one having to figure out how to even approach taking care of COVID patients at the beginning and midway through to then also have to be separated from the people who give you the most support, which is your loved ones in your family. So another unimaginable situation where I was very fortunate not to have to quarantine from my husband, but not having that support system everyday to just give you a hug at the end of the day. I imagine this just was devastating. Mentally.
Yeah, I can't, I can't even imagine, right, like you see all this trauma and all these horrible things happening during the day, and then you come home and cannot, you know, be comforted by your family, because you don't want to put them in harm's way either, it has to be very isolating.
So tell me a little bit about it, because I imagine you experienced this, and I think you told me before we started, experiencing this. So during COVID, and even still today, in some hospitals, I think family members aren't allowed in. So you went from you know, typical nursing, where you've got maybe a visitor to that patient, or you're communicating directly with that, that patient's family, in person to nobody comes in. So it's got to be scary and isolating for the patient. And you kind of become that conduit and connection between the family and the patient. So what was that like? I mean, I imagine that, you know, had to be a little different in how you manage that process.
Yeah, because you think you have this new way that you have to communicate a lot of healthcare needs in a short amount of time. Because, you know, not only sometimes the nurses have to talk to you, well, then the doctors have to talk to you to make plans of care. So the really cool thing that we ended up doing at Vanderbilt was making a designated care contact. So the family chose this one person, and then that is the only person we communicated with on the phone, the entirety of stay for that patient. So anytime we needed to call and give updates, we only talked to this one person who was called the DCC, the designated care contact. And it we tried to streamline that just so it would be a little bit easier for us as an interdisciplinary team, but also would hopefully be easier for the family that way, there wasn't any mixed communication messages. Nothing was getting lost in translation, like we would be like, well have these questions ready when you come talk to the nurse, and like, we'll try to get them answered for you the next time we talked. So that process there was a little bit easier, but it was definitely so hard to not have visitors because family and friends are so essential to supporting someone who's going through a healthcare crisis, as a patient, you know, that, like just the emotional support that they get from the just their family or the familiarity of a face that they know, is so important and impactful in their care. And so it was hard because then, you know, when you especially have ICU patients and they're intubated, they can't talk to you. So you're like, well, I need to know this question. Like right now. Well, maybe two in the morning, you know, I can't, I can call someone but they're probably not going to answer me in the morning. I'm hoping to...
Don't want to terrify them.
Yeah, terrify, the more you're calling me. Is everything okay? And you're just like, no, I just need to know if they have metal in their body because we need to have an MRI. So something like that, where you're like, oh, I don't have a great health history, especially if someone has you know, comes in for a reason they were already down when you found that you know, and you're like, Oh, well, I think this is this is the number they have their phone as like mom. So maybe hopefully mom is a good guardian. You know, you don't and you don't know that relationship. Be there so you don't know who to ask. Like is this the person you want us to talk to? Who should we talk to? Usually a family shows up, you know, you can say like, oh, there's this good relationship, and they can choose. But it's just something with having a family member there to support them, and see just what's going on with them that I think also gives family members some ease too, so there's a lot more anxiety for just being a loved one over the phone, because they can't physically be present. So I think it's, it adds to the stress that's already there. But yeah, I know, some facilities are allowing maybe like one visitor a day, in certain cases, I know, for like COVID patients, you'd have to go on isolation. So you don't get to see anybody for 10 to 14 days, still, in some areas, and the place that I'm working, now, they don't have any visitors at all. So they're still complete shut down from visitors. So it's been really interesting to see how that's going to change when people start coming back. We'll see.
What so during that experience, and then, even now, I have to imagine, you know, it's hard for you, as a nurse trying to one do your job amidst all of this and take care of the patient. And then to try to communicate with a family that is probably freaking out at home and upset that they can't be there in person. And I would imagine, there are times where emotions run high, and maybe people aren't as friendly as they could be to their nursing and doctor staff.
Yes, I've definitely probably been, and I don't feel like I'm unapproachable in any way. I'm usually like, pretty easygoing, I'm a very informative nurse, I try to explain things to the best of my ability. Sometimes I may get a little too technical, and they'll be like huh?, and I'll be like, Oh, let me try to think about how to word this in a different way. But I've been yelled at on the phone a lot during the pandemic, and nothing that I necessarily was doing wrong. And again, I think, like, yes, frustration and like things get away from you. Because, you know, you're not able to physically be there as a supportive person. I know, patients have been a little bit more on edge, too. And this is not just me, that's been experiencing this. I, it's all of us in healthcare, you know, we've all been, you know, that recently, a little bit more than I think we feel comfortable with. And I think you'll see. And I know some people the stress of it, just having to deal with maybe interactions that haven't been so great. People are leaving nursing, you know, where was in nursing from that to just burnout and fatigue from this, just the mental aspect of it, of the kind of abuse that healthcare is taking, emotionally, sometimes physically to, and there's still violence in the workplace for nurses. And it's not just physical, it's mental abuse, as well. And so we're trying to like combat against that, as well as in still take care of our patients and provide them the safest environment that we can, you know, we're always trying to do the most good for the most amount of people, but you kind of hope that it gets a little better as things go on. And people are people see this, you know, I see a lot more increase of growing respect than health care workers. You know, it's the world's number one most trusted profession, but you just want us to also be the number one most respected profession too. So just know that like, we're, we're doing our job, we're doing everything we can. But sometimes we have to take that emotional abuse. And it's hard for a lot of people, especially if they're already taking care of really, really sick people in high stress environment. So it's a lot.
And are people just like, I'm trying to think of, you know, a situation where I might have been less than friendly with a nurse or a doctor. Because I'm sure I have I'm sure it's been frustrating. No, I have because when my mom was in the hospital in October of 2020, because she had surgery for cancer. And I remember some of the nursing staff was fabulous at the hospital. But there were a couple that could have cared less. And you know, she'd ring her call bell 3, 4, 5 times and they were just sitting at the nursing station chatting and ignoring it. And needless to say, I was not very friendly. When I walked out to be like she's calling for help. She needs help to go to the bathroom. And I knew in the hospital, I was not supposed to help her at that time. And they're just sitting there chatting and look at me like they're annoyed with me. And I'm like, hm, and I know I probably could have been nicer, to be fair, but there there's also kind of that piece to it. And I imagine that is the exception, not the norm. And that was my kind of take on it. But I can't I'm trying to envision, like, what? Because I've heard from people, lots of people about how horrible people have been to nurses and doctors, and I'm like, But what like, are they blaming you? Like, what are they? What are they so upset for if you're, you're doing the best thing, the best that you can to take care of their loved one.
So I had a recent experience in which one of my patients had coded on a different unit and had to be intubated and transferred to the ICU. And when we call because of HIPAA laws, we can't give personal information on a voicemail, right?
If you're my if you're my care, contact, and I have to go, Hi, this is Hillary from XYZ hospital. If you could give me a call back at this number, I would greatly appreciate it. I can't say it's concerning your mother is concerning your sister is concerning your child like I can't. And I can't say names. I can't give out any information. So recently, I made three phone calls, I left three voicemails, because I really needed the information and be like, Hey, we had to intubate this person, they did code. We got them back, though. What, you know, we need decisions to be made. And then the next day, when this person finally called back, they call back and was like, somebody told me, blah, xy, like my sister, something, I don't remember what the family member was. And I apologize, because they told me that they were in the ED, like, blah, blah, blah. And I'm going to bring up my lawyer, and we're going to sue because this is wrong. And this is, you know, blah, blah, blah. And just like, literally, the nurse that had to take over for me, because I came back the next night was just like, it was three hours of trying to sort out the situation. And in this particular family member, and this is not the first time I've seen this happen if people just say like, oh, I'm going to bring my lawyer. Okay, well, I don't know. First off,
What are you supposed to do with that?
What am I supposed to do with that? Okay, like, yes, you can bring them but like, also, I can't talk to them. I can't speak with them. You can speak to representatives, you can speak to personal Patient Relations, people like that. And it's just like, they will just yell at you on the phone, and just about how this wasn't done. And this wasn't done. And you're just like, I'm sorry, I wasn't here for that. Or like, I wasn't here during this time, because a lot of stuff will happen. And you're just like, I wasn't present for that somebody. Somebody's family member asked the other day. Well, why did you have to do the Narcan? And I was like, Well, this is generally why we give Narcan. I wasn't circumstantially there. I don't know why they made that decision. I can't share that with you. I just know that it happened. And then they're just like, Okay, well, I guess that's fine then. And I'm just like, Okay, I'm sorry. Like, just, I'm just doing my best here. So yeah, I know, a lot of other nurses have experienced a lot more just like, different different examples, but kind of that same realm of just like, Why are you yelling at me, you know, and you can't do anything about it. But try to be, you know, continue to be your congenial self and in trying to, like ease the situation. And it's, it's hard sometimes. Because, yeah, like you said emotions run really high. And like you're not always responding well, I know, when my mom was in the hospital, I got really mad too. And I snapped at this one nurse. And I was like, this is unacceptable, and you know, an angry nurse against another nurses is never a good sign. Because you're like, I'll never be that person. And then I'm like, Oh, I am this person. Like, oh, man.
Yeah, it is hard. The emotions definitely take over when it's your loved one. And oh, no, I try to remember that. And I would hope most people do. And I imagine it's even worse, these last two years, because of because of the pandemic and being isolated and not being able to do all the things you're used to doing. It just adds another level to your mental health of the stress and everything else. And, you know, sadly, I think, you know, health care providers have become an outlet for people to kind of unleash that. And because we don't have enough psychologists and counselors and other people for the for everybody to talk to and help them process, their grief and their stress and all of those things. And so you end up taking it out on the people in front of you. So I'm sorry that that happens. And hopefully, you know, as as things open up more and we get back to more mobility, maybe I'll say it that way as opposed to... some of that improves. because there was already a nursing shortage before the pandemic, if I remember correctly.
Yes there was, that has been... I didn't. I've been really fortunate. It's, I don't know, like, it's so weird, because, you know, it was a shortage before the pandemic, but now it's like, insane shortage.
So the facility that I'm at right now, I think we probably had like six people on our unit at night, six nurses our unit at night. And four of them are usually travelers.
Wow, that's a lot.
Yeah. And not just travelers specific to the burn world, but like other ICU nurses, and then sometimes they'll have stepped down patients up there that are non ICU that like step down, nurses can take. So they'll have like maybe two step down nurses, and an ICU nurse for that floats from downstairs, and then they'll have the burn traveler. And then they'll have a staff member, and then the charge nurse that are like, to that unit. And that has been the like shortest, like, staffing crisis that I've seen. But I know some of my friends have been like, I am the only nurse on this unit with another nurse. And we're both travelers
And that adds another level of stress, I imagine, right?
As you're coming into a workplace, that is not your own, that you're not familiar with, where everything is and how it operates. I mean, I've seen some parts of nursing or you know, standard protocol no matter what hospital you're in, but find in the supply room, and all those other things that you've got to kind of navigate your way around, in addition to taking care of patients.
In addition. And like who trains you, if you're both travelers who oriented you to the unit? Sometimes you get three days as a traveler, because at Baltimore, I got three days. And at this place, I got four hours.
I got four hours, which, honestly, I didn't really need that many because I didn't need... that I liked my four hours, don't get me wrong, but I didn't need them any because I already knew the charting system I already knew. Because they use the same one that I've been used to using. And I already knew, like their medication machine dispensary. So that I mean, I'm already comfortable using those I just don't have access sometimes to so it took me about a week and a half to get access to things that I needed access to like, I can't do my I can chart but that's pretty much it. Like I can't pull out meds right now. So like, that's been really interesting to kind of see as well just like the little things that you're just like, how do I fix this? How can you fix this for me? But like, where are your resources when you're just it's a unit full of travelers? You know? Like, How can I fix this? Who do I need to call for this? What is this change? How do I get in contact with the physician when I need somebody if I don't have someone bedside? So those little stressors for travelers can be kind of like, just part of like the job field, you're just like, well, I chose to be traveler, I know what to expect. You know, I know it's gonna be a little bit different, a little bit more challenging, but at the same time, like once you hit that comfort, and once you've been traveling for any amount of time, you kind of just like roll with it. You're just like, I can figure this out, or like I'll call somebody. Which is I mean, which is what I do. I'm like Why call somebody they'll know the answer. I think to just like waiting to travel, not I you know, a lot of nurses, newer nurses are entering travel a lot earlier, because there's been such a shortage that, you know, people with one or two years experience are out there traveling. I can't even imagine that so scary to me to think of like, you're still really a novice nurse at that point. And you're going into an environment where you're expected to know your stuff. You're expected to be more on a practicing level and proficient to expert, but you're still really at that novice nurse level. So going into that and just kind of winging it, you're like, Man, I can't, I personally can't imagine feeling that discomfort because I've been a nurse for over eight years. And I started traveling I guess at the like six year mark. And at that point, you know, I've already been in healthcare because I worked as a tech before, like nine years. So I was really comfortable. I'm really comfortable in my practice. I feel really proficient I know how to anticipate things especially within critical care. So all the nurses that are like, don't have that experience in that base. So I guess for all of you nurses out there, if you want to start traveling, please just be patient and get that experience because it's a big patient safety concern one and then it's it's your nursing practice that, and your license that you strived so hard to get so just take it one day at a time, travel positions will always be there.
Good advice. So Hillary, what do you see on the horizon? for healthcare? Where do you think the state of healthcare is going? What are things that that you've been thinking about, as we, you know, start to hopefully come to the other side, as the pandemic moves to an endemic, as they like to say, lately,
There is a lot of like big social media impact right now, within the healthcare world, because that's kind of like our new social outlet, you know, like, everybody has, like their nursing TikTok's, and their like, videos that just explain things and like, go through everything. I know, as far as like, policy and procedure, we're moving to reform, just from the nursing side of things, two big approaches of, actually three, as far as nurse practitioners go, getting nurse practitioners more autonomy and their ability to practice and make decisions to help with the physician shortage as well. So hopefully, we have more MPs and PAs, to get to be able to do more prescribing, if you will, there's like limitations on what they're allowed to prescribe and how they're allowed to practice and who they're allowed to practice under in this differs state to state. But it's really important for, you know, the healthcare community, that these, what we used to call mid level providers, if you will, get more autonomy in their decision to prescribe and do orders because it's really going to help, you know, the whole field out, when you have another person you can call at night, when you have an NP that's going to be there bedside, because, you know, they can make those decisions. So that's one thing. The second thing is, hopefully, they're going to be reforming and re looking at the Joint Commission, and focusing on figuring out how to make more of a better relationship between hospitals, the hospital staff and the Joint Commission. I think that their intent is really good. But there's like a lot of animosity that still exists there. And I know, nurses are, especially nurses are very tired. Because where was the Joint Commission during pandemic? You didn't have to see us for two years? Why are you coming? Like, we definitely don't want to see you now. You know, just like reforming that relationship and in re-establishing what that intent in in purpose of that organization needs to be and how we can build a better relationship with them. And then also just workplace violence for us. There's a lot of workplace violence within healthcare that doesn't really get addressed or approached in the media, or promoted because I wasn't we were kind of talking about this, you know, we're just expected in to do better as nurses like, what can you do better? How could you have done this more safely? And a lot of times, I know in a lot of states, they're doing more like healthcare reform about how to protect nurses who are physically assaulted within the workplace, and that could be another staff member, but also usually is patient or family who come in a little bit hot in the pants. They think that it's okay to take that out on the nursing staff and not just nurses but also doctors and, and other health care professional, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, everybody that works in that realm chaplains, you know, even which man if you've not had a good chaplain, they're a dime a dozen, because they they do a lot of work to, to support the psychosocial needs of patients and, and also of nursing staff while they're there. So props to chaplains that just have to give them a shout out. But that's what you know, I think, when we don't think about the pandemic, what we're focusing on in healthcare is, hopefully to create better working environments for us so that people aren't wanting to leave the industry.
Yeah it was interesting. It's interesting, I was thinking about what you just said, Oh, I had to laugh at hot in the pants. That's a phrase I haven't heard before. But, you know, it just it struck me you know, as you say, as a nurse, you're asked what what could you have done differently? Because, you know, certainly no one asks the patient or the visitor, well, what could you have done differently? Right, there's no learning moment. On the other side of that incident. It's only one sided as if you know, you as the nurse or the nurse practitioner or the doctor, whomever could have controlled that situation and sometimes it is completely outside of your control.
Exactly. And then you're just like, What am I what, what do I do now? You know, and I've been really fortunate to have very Little physical harm has that has come my way. Probably only two instances in my we're not super big deal. But I know for like a lot of emergency department nurses, the that is definitely more of a high risk environment because the wild crazy stuff that goes down there. My friend Christina works in the emergency department now. And she is she's luckily very like a very strong woman. She helps her out. She's very assertive. A lot of emergency department nurses, are very assertive. But she says she's like, Man, if I get hit one more time, I'm just like, she's like, I'm I just leave. Like, she was like in the snow. It's nothing she's doing wrong. She's very approachable, very great nurse. And she's just how do you answer that question of like, what could you do better? Not work here? Like, that's just not be friendly. There's not be there? Like, what can I don't have an answer for that? And I don't. And I think that's hard, too. Because some nursing and medical staff, they are not doing anything wrong. It's just people. And I'm not saying this is everyone in general. Th-That's an okay thing to do is just take some type of violence out on nurses, and not just nurses, but healthcare professionals.
Well, we've seen it everywhere, right, in a lot of different professions, on airplanes in the capital. I mean, everywhere we seem to see increase in violence in general.
Yeah, so hopefully, I mean, I obviously don't have an answer of how to end violence in the world, you just pray and hope that it gets better. Just stay, stay hopeful. I think I talked about this earlier, I just want hope. At the end of it, I just want to continue to just think like, well, we're trying to do the most good so that we get the most good, and just not losing that intent behind why we got into taking care of people. Because once you lose that, you know, you got to leave the field. If you don't have that you can't work in healthcare, because that's your driving force. So while I may be very cynical, I still want to see people get better and and having to a little hand in that is why I do what I do. So I think as long as you don't lose that, you still you can be super, super cynical and be a nurse for 40 years, but you're still like, Man, I just want to see them get better and go home, then you're okay, you can set you keep working.
There you go. I think that's a great note to end on. So Hillary, first of all, thank you for your service to patients all over, you know, nurses are so important as are doctors and and you know, everyone at a health care facility right from the janitor to the cafeteria worker to the chaplain, as you pointed out, I mean, everyone plays such an important role in in the care of people. So thank you for what you do, because it is not easy, especially as a burn nurse. That's-That's another level of care, but even caring and certainly caring for COVID patients in the middle of the pandemic is something no one I think ever expected to have to deal with.
Oh, well, thank you. And thank you for having me today.
Yeah, this was great. I hope some of our nursing students pick up on this one and get to hear your story a little bit as well. Might might might inspire them even to consider being a burn nurse. You never know.
Hey, we need burn nurses, nurses. I can also hit me up on email, you can find me I'm sure on the directory or on Facebook. I tell you all you want to know about nursing I tell you all you will know about nursing but specifically if you have burn questions, hit me up. All my students do. So. They'll be texting me.
Awesome. Well, Hillary thank you and for our listeners. Until next time,
Transcribed by https://otter.ai