Alumna using skills to care for COVID-19 patients

Kelsey Tavs, class of 2018

Where are you currently working and in what role? How long have you been in that position?

I am a Registered Nurse at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. I graduated from Bellin College in May 2018. I took my NCLEX on a Friday in early June, and started my job on the following Monday — good thing I passed! That adds up to just about two years of taking on the exciting and challenging role of the RN. I work on a medical/surgical — general surgery floor. Our population consists of medical patients from the Emergency Department with anything from pneumonia, kidney failure, GI bleeds, orthopedic traumas, and altered mental status. Our surgical population includes a wide variety of post-operative patients having a thyroidectomy, prostatectomy, colectomy, and more. This diverse patient population definitely keeps the job interesting!

In mid-March, everything took a turn and my unit became a COVID-19-only floor. Everything you see hyped up on social media — the personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, visitor restrictions, fear of infecting your own family members, and nurses uniting together — has a different kind of meaning when you are the one in the room providing care for those in the fight against this virus.

How has COVID-19 changed your outlook on nursing and/or how you deliver care?

COVID-19 has even more so ignited my passion and pride for the nursing profession. The distinct characteristics of a nurse have been highlighted tremendously these past few weeks — intelligence, a caring and compassionate heart, adaptability, resilience, and even our entertaining sense of humor. When some are told to stay in their home, nurses are the ones running full force toward the action. I am so thankful for my team and the many other disciplines who show up every day, mask-on, despite the many challenges and fears this virus has created in our hospital and world.

One of the biggest differences in care delivery during this pandemic is doing so with no visitors present. There are no family members there to sit at the bedside of a confused and scared patient, ask clarifying questions when information is hard to understand, or advocate for their loved one. Family members are putting their entire trust and hope in the nursing staff to do these important tasks on their behalf. Last week, my patient was switched to hospice care and during a phone update with her son, he asked me, “Does she look comfortable?” This may seem like a simple, nonmeaningful question to some. But when you are unable to physically see your family member, the answer to this question means everything. The heightened responsibilities to be one of the sole individuals providing comfort, ensuring the plan of care is understood, and advocating for my patient is truly an honor that I do not take lightly. 

How has it changed how you think about the world around you?

The world has literally come to a halt due to COVID-19. What a unique time. In the midst of some grumbles of boredom and going a bit stir-crazy in the house, there is something really special going on here. Someone said to me recently, “We have never spent this much time as a family before.” My hope is that those who are able to stay home are taking advantage of this time to stay still as it is the complete opposite of our always-busy culture.

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support shown toward me personally and toward nursing as a whole — the countless messages, prayers, sidewalk chalk art, hearts in windows, gift baskets, motivational signs, and more. Despite the ongoing anxiety and sadness surrounding COVID-19, this has reminded me that when things get tough, people will always unite.

What have you learned from the veteran nurses around you in the last few weeks?

One of the biggest takeaways from the leaders around me is that perspective and attitude is a choice — before COVID-19 and especially during. My intent is not to make it seem like nursing is easy right now. Nursing is more demanding than ever of both our physical and mental energy. Our patients are sicker than they have ever been. Processes are changing daily, if not hourly. The conservation and fear of running out of PPE is real. With that being said, my leaders have encouraged us to stay calm, stay positive, and embrace this abnormal period of time. One line that has stuck with me is, “You’re in the midst of history.” One day, we will all look back and share the craziness of being a frontline healthcare provider during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Has anything you learned in nursing school come in handy in the past few weeks? If so, what?

My education at Bellin College set me up for success by solidifying certain characteristics within me that have been essential in my nursing career thus far. The college values of Excellence, Integrity, Community, and Caring are all characteristics ingrained within the way I practice nursing and have definitely come in handy these past few weeks. My experiences with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), which prioritizes leading and embracing change, set me up to accept all of the change that has occurred recently and motivate me to be a resource for my team by keeping up-to-date with the most recent information. I was surrounded by individuals at Bellin College who pushed me to stay positive through the challenges of nursing school and remain calm during the stress which is also a skill coming in handy these days. And lastly, my time on the medical mission trip to Guatemala changed my entire perspective in a way I will never forget. Even now during times of uncertainty, we are blessed to live in a country with all the available resources, finances, and equipment. I will always be thankful for my experiences and the excellent, foundational education I received at Bellin College.

If you are a nurse currently or played any role in my journey of becoming a nurse, thank you! You are valued and appreciated. If you are a nurse-in-the-making, get excited, you are about to begin one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding careers there is. And for my MS2 team, we are in this together. I see you and appreciate you. We will come out of this stronger than ever.

Kelsey Tavs,
Bellin College Alumna

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