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Nursing co-ops work through Boston snowstorms

On the evening of Saturday, Feb. 14, Samantha Sullivan bundled up to brave Boston’s latest snowstorm, which was in the process of dumping more than a foot of the fluffy stuff on the city’s streets. Sullivan, BHS’16, donned her scarf, slipped into her boots, and then stepped out of her off-campus apartment, navigating ice, snow banks, and slush puddles en route to her co-op job as a clinical assistant in the oncology unit of Boston Children’s Hospital.

She worked the 12-hour night shift, monitoring vital signs, recording food intake, and collecting lab samples.

“The reality of being a nurse means putting your needs behind those of your patients and their families,” said Sullivan, a third-year nursing major. “When cancer starts taking snow days, maybe nurses can too. Until then, this is exactly what we’ve signed up for.”

Her sentiments reflected the feelings of many nursing co-op students, all of whom battled the recent spate of snowstorms to fulfill their professional obligations to their colleagues, to their patients, and to themselves. They trekked to and from work on foot and by car, via taxi, shuttle, and the MBTA. They worked eight-hour shifts, 12-hour shifts, and 16-hour-shifts. They rose particularly early to arrive on time, slept on hospital cots, and proved why nurses are deemed “essential personnel” during citywide shutdowns, picking up the slack when their beleaguered peers were snowed-in.

Lauren Farrell—a patient care technician in the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s oncology unit—is a prime example of the group’s professional dedication. Farrell, BHS’17, worked through this winter’s first two major storms, which brought the city to a standstill in late January and early February. One time, she slept overnight at the hospital in preparation for her morning shift, which included feeding, bathing, and weighing patients.

“My patients have been extremely thankful for the hard work and hours away from family that all of the healthcare team members have put in to make it to their shifts,” Farrell explained. “One of my patients even told me that I’ve ‘earned a free ticket to heaven.’”

The mother of one of Sullivan’s patients slipped out of her child’s hospital room in the middle of the night to find Sullivan and give her a large box of heart-shaped chocolates, a sweet gift in honor of her gratitude. “It was as if,” Sullivan said, “the look in her eyes and the warmth in her smile was not thanks enough.”

Johanna Howley, BHS’16, noted that her full-time colleagues thanked her profusely for her willingness to work through the Valentine’s weekend storm, an undertaking that began with her lengthy commute from her home in Quincy, Massachusetts, to the Massachusetts General Hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit. Howley worked a 16-hour shift on Saturday and then an eight-hour shift on Sunday, feeding, bathing, and dressing patients.

“My colleagues’ gratitude was so genuine and they were so thankful that I stayed over,” said Howley, who rested in between her shifts in one of the hospital’s on-call rooms. “Whether it’s repositioning patients or giving them baths, every single person makes a huge difference and each helping hand goes a long way.”

Supervisors at MGH and BIDMC praised the nursing students for their commitment to quality care on snow days, pointing in particular to their professionalism, selflessness, and inexhaustibility.

Daniel Nadworny, the clinical director of operations for the BIDMC’s emergency department and urgent care center, asked his pair of co-op students to expand the scope of their responsibilities in the face of staff shortages.

“With so many staff members not able to make it in,” said Nadworny, BHS’02, “the co-op students had to be flexible and take on tasks like cleaning and answering phones to help augment other groups with staff challenges.”

Judy Silva oversees five full-time co-op students in Massachusetts General Hospital’s cardiac inpatient unit, where she serves as nurse manager. “You slept in chairs, on floors, on mattresses, bunked up with others in hotel rooms, at friend’s homes, and you walked great distances in order to be here,” Silva, BHS’83, told them in a staff-wide email following one of the storms. “It was disruptive to your lives, your families’ lives, and frankly, it was exhausting. Thank you.”

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