Imagine that you are a 23-year-old only months into your nursing career. You thought you knew what you signed up for when you chose that career path in health care, but as things have transpired at the outset of your journey, it turns out you really had no idea.
Or as Shelby Miller, who earned her bachelor of science in nursing at Florida Gulf Coast University in 2019, put it, “I never thought in my first year of nursing I would be a part of history, working in the heart of a pandemic.”
In Miller’s case, “the heart” is Tampa, where the Rochester, N.Y., native is part of the team in Tampa General Hospital’s COVID-19 intensive-care unit. Rated as one of the top hospitals not only in Florida but nationally, Tampa General serves a 12-county region but most of its patients come from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which collectively had reported almost 35,000 coronavirus cases, more than 2,000 hospitalizations and 527 deaths as of July 15.
In the middle of that west central Florida fight is Miller, the latest FGCU-trained nurse working in the trenches of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis to share her observations with FGCU360. Miller credits the excellent instruction and mentorship she received in her two years at FGCU as the reason she was entrusted to work in Tampa General’s COVID-19 ICU with little to no previous professional experience.
FGCU360: For you personally, what have been the toughest things to deal with on the job?
Shelby Miller: The toughest aspect of working in the COVID ICU is the unknown, with the patients and the disease itself. In the beginning, many people were not thinking COVID was as bad as it really was. Another concern we all had was how we were going to protect ourselves. On the news, it portrayed so many nurses and other healthcare workers not having proper personal protective equipment, and putting their lives at risk to save others. Thankfully, I have had all the proper PPE to protect myself.
FGCU360: What positive developments have you seen during this crisis?
Shelby Miller: My coworkers and I have developed such great teamwork. Before COVID happened, our unit was always team-driven. Yet, especially during this time, none of us have ever felt like we were in this alone. I also have seen several patients go home after being terribly ill from COVID. Our first patient who was diagnosed went home a few weeks after being on our unit. I do not think a single nurse will ever forget him and his remarkable recovery.
FGCU360: In your opinion, what will be the action items that have to be addressed after this crisis has passed?
Shelby Miller: Honestly, I am not sure how to answer that. I hope people will continue practicing proper hand hygiene. Also, try to keep yourself as healthy as you possibly can. It seems those who suffer from comorbidities (the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient) were being hit the hardest by COVID.
FGCU360: No one in health care at every level – from medical-supply companies to healthcare workers — could have been totally prepared for a pandemic such as this. In that light, how did your education and experiences at FGCU help you deal with such a crisis?
Shelby Miller: FGCU was a great school to attend. I believe I was able to start out in an ICU as a brand new nurse because of the great education I received. One valuable lesson was to expect the unexpected, and always try to be one step ahead. In these tough times, every healthcare worker has no idea what they are going to walk into on their next shift, but have to walk in with their head high, take care of their patients, and hope they heal and go home to their loved ones.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
FGCU360 would like to hear from any alum or faculty/staff member actively involved in the COVID-19 fight who wishes to share her or his personal story. Contact Keith Gibson, FGCU Marketing and Communications, at [email protected].
- Sherri Parmar, nursing graduate working at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers
- Kelly Goebel, assistant professor working at Naples Community Hospital
- Marylee Marre, nursing graduate working for the NYC Health + Hospitals system in New York City
MESSAGES FROM MARIEB
“The economic and health impact our graduates have on not only our local communities but communities all over the United States is impressive. Marieb College and the School of Nursing is a major contributor to the health and welfare of our citizens. As we are now experiencing, health is tied directly to productivity in our economy and to social wellbeing. We are honored to produce nursing and health workforce graduates who are able to protect the health of the public.”
— Ann H. Cary, PhD, MPH, RN, FANP, FAAN
Dean and Professor, Marieb College of Health & Human Services
Chair, Board of Directors, American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2018-20)
Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow
“We are especially proud of our FGCU nursing alumni who are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. We know they have outstanding skills and are emerging as leaders in nursing. We admire the resilience, initiative, dedication and fearlessness that set them apart in practice. On behalf of the FGCU School of Nursing faculty, staff and students, I would like to say thank you for your spirit and exceptional nursing care.”
— Anne Nolan, PhD, RN, FACN
Conner Professor in Nursing
Director, School of Nursing
Marieb College of Health & Human Services