May 15, 2020

‘Nurses support patients in all settings and stages of illness and COVID-19 is no exception’

UCalgary nursing alumna in primary care says change and adaptability key to being a registered nurse right now

Almost as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared I started getting messages, texts and calls from family, friends and acquaintances. All were curious about how I was faring and wanted to express their appreciation for my efforts on the front line. Like them, I read many harrowing stories of nurses who were working in conditions described as war zones. Through this whole experience I have struggled to reconcile the disconnect I feel between these expressions of appreciation and the seemingly non-harrowing work in which I am engaged.

My experience as a registered nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic can be summed up in two words: change and adaptability.

No two weeks have been the same. Initially it was overwhelming to digest the deluge of information. Working as a complex care nurse for the South Calgary Primary Care Network (SCPCN) and a general medicine nurse at the Foothills Hospital, I am uniquely positioned in two of the largest branches of Alberta Health: one supporting primary care services (family physician offices) and the other, acute care services (hospitals).

While I continue to support my primary care patients through remote telehealth services, I was keen to raise my hand and help with other relief efforts. I worked screening staff as they started their shift at the hospital and answered calls on the COVID 811 Health Link line. Both positions have changed since their original launch.

My latest redeployment is to support the Secondary Assessment and Treatment Centres/PCN Access Clinics. Haven’t heard of them? That’s okay: most Albertans haven’t either. The news is appropriately keen to highlight the heroic efforts of acute care nurses who are working day and night to support their patients admitted to hospital.

But who is caring for the vast majority of patients who are managing and recovering from COVID-19 at home? What if someone who has COVID-19 falls and breaks their leg? What if someone with a cough also needs help managing a chronic disease? Where do they go?

Family doctors are going to great lengths to support their patients with telehealth options, but because of risk of transmission, can’t see a patient in person at their clinic. Secondary Assessment and Treatment Clinics/PCN Access clinics are dedicated to seeing patients with COVID-like symptoms, presumed COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 positive cases.

In record time, the South Calgary Primary Care Network (SCPCN) has transformed their clinic into one of these access clinics. As a nurse, my day is spent calling referrals from 811, and family physician offices to triage patients appropriately. I don and doff all the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) while helping physicians see the patient.

The SCPCN access clinic was barely established when we needed to pivot. We have been working hard to support any patient linked to the Cargill plant outbreak. While working with 811, I learned how to help families isolate the positive case in their home.

Now I am talking to families of eight with six positive and two negative cases in the home. The conversation has changed to how to protect the negative cases. I also work hard to assess and connect families to appropriate social supports services.

Although not the dramatic stories you hear on the news, I have developed a quiet appreciation for my efforts to help fight COVID-19. Slowly, I’m accepting the local and global appreciation.

Nurses support patients in all settings and stages of illness, and COVID-19 is no exception. I’m grateful to work alongside nurses who are all ready to embrace perpetual change. There are few professions able to boast the level of adaptability a registered nurse requires during a pandemic.

Schulz graduated from the Faculty of Nursing in 2017. Since then she has worked as a causal nurse on Unit 62 at the Foothills Hospital. In 2017, she helped launch the UCalgary NurseMentor pilot program. In 2018, she joined the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network as a chronic disease management nurse at the Claresholm medical clinic. In 2019, she joined the South Calgary Primary Care Network as a chronic disease management nurse for the Medical Home program.