Nurses Fighting COVID-19: DNP Student Provides Critical Care in Trauma/ICU in Washington State

April 27, 2020

University of Arizona College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student Mary Lee Montgomery Sidorowicz decided she wanted to become a nurse as a child. While dealing with childhood health issues, she connected with – and was inspired by -- the nurses who cared for her. “Nursing became a natural choice for me,” she says.

Sidorowicz fulfilled her ambition admirably, earning her RN and working for years in critical care. When she decided to return to nursing school to earn her DNP, she chose to shift her focus to mental health in UArizona Nursing’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty. Her expected graduation is fall, 2021. “As a trauma nurse, I see the immense impact that trauma has on mental health, and the importance of mental health on recovery and physical health overall,” she says.

For the last several weeks, Sidorowicz has been working in Trauma/ICU in Washington State, which has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her challenges on the frontline of the battle against the deadly virus.

"As a trauma nurse, I see the immense impact that trauma has on mental health, and the importance of mental health on recovery and physical health overall," ~ Mary Lee Montgomery Sidorowicz, UArizona Nursing DNP Student

What is it like to be on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It has definitely been the most stressful time of my life, particularly as a nurse. I see it in my colleagues every day. We all have days where the impact of being on the frontline taking care of incredibly sick patients and knowing our risk for exposure and illness is increased can be daunting. I feel fortunate to work at a hospital with excellent leadership that was very prepared. The hospital I work at did a lot of preparation during the Ebola crisis that really paid off now as we face this pandemic.  It has required us to be incredibly flexible and engaged, as every day our protocols and responsibilities are changing. 

Can you share your perspective of the challenges nurses face during this crisis working in trauma/ICU?

Approximately half of our shifts are spent caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients and half trauma patients. This is unique for us as it requires us to be flexible and take care of patients that are more commonly seen in the medical ICU setting. Additionally, we are starting to see more cases of trauma patients who come in with traumatic injuries but end up testing positive for COVID-19. We have begun to test all trauma patients on admission for COVID-19, as it has become prevalent enough in our community that we have seen some unexpected cases. Just this week, we had a patient with a gunshot wound and an elderly patient who fell test positive. It has shifted our perspective of who should be tested and how to best manage the flow of these patients around the hospital. Again, every day and week we face new challenges and find new ways to meet these challenges. 

How are nurses in your community fighting this epidemic?

A lot of nurses have really stepped up to the challenge in a way that I have found extremely heartening and demonstrated the bravery and go-getter attitude that nurses possess. For example, we have nurses and nurse techs that assist with donning and doffing PPE in COVID-19 rooms. Just the other day I met a nurse from our outpatient ophthalmology clinic that volunteered to work in the COVID-19 ICU to assist us. She could be staying at home but chose to be deployed to our unit. Additionally, I've seen nurses coming together to speak up for each other in hospitals that are struggling, whether it be raising awareness on social media or speaking out to our nursing unions about the struggles nurses and healthcare workers are facing. I think this time has really demonstrated the impact that nurses can have on social media by advocating for healthy choices and dispelling misinformation. 

What are the biggest challenges you face?

I think the biggest challenge I face is stress management. Just like everyone else in our country and the world, I am reeling with the impact that this virus has had on my life. Due to our projected surge in Washington in early April, I have chosen to isolate from my family for a few weeks. I have not seen my children for two weeks, even though they are only two blocks away. It is hard to be separated from them and deal with the stress of work. Many nurses need to be reminded to take care of themselves, and I am certainly one who needs reminding of that. 

How have you managed your school work and your clinical work?

Fortunately, I like school and find it to be a good distraction. During the first month I was really struggling. Washington was the initial epicenter with the first death in the US occurring at the hospital I work at.  In those early days it felt impossible to focus as life was changing gears really quickly. Now that the day-to-day changes have slowed down, it feels easier and sometimes refreshing to work on school work, to focus my energy on the future and learning. 

What does it mean to you to be a Wildcat Nurse?

I completed my undergrad at UArizona Nursing as well, so I feel like I am a Wildcat nurse all the way! It was so fun coming back to campus for RISE and walking the halls of the College. At the time I didn't know it, but the nursing college really prepared me to be a successful nurse in so many ways. Nursing school was hard but I came out feeling so proud and so ready to take on my career. The College of Nursing prepares nurses to give excellent, safe care but also encourages scholarship and continuing education.

What does the Year of the Nurse mean to you?

The Year of the Nurse came at an interesting time! It's been an honor to be recognized by our community as being such a vital part of society. While there isn't much good I can say to come from a pandemic, I think this experience will shift our society's focus back to the importance of health and wellness for all people, a goal that most nurses strive for on a daily basis.