Nurses Fighting COVID-19: UArizona DNP-FNP Student Provides Critical Care in Arizona ICU Patients

June 5, 2020

University of Arizona College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student Abbi Simpson was inspired to become a nurse by her grandfather. A dedicated teacher, principal and superintendent in small-town Illinois, he used his position as an avenue to form deep bonds with his entire community. Growing up watching his support, compassion and selfless service taught her the importance of making a difference in the lives of others. “As I prepare to become an advanced practitioner, I am so grateful and excited for the opportunity to do this on a larger scale,” she says.

Red and Blue through and through, Simpson earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from UArizona Nursing and expects to earn her family certificate in December, 2020 and her Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) certificate the following year. “I truly believe that receiving education from such an intelligent, devoted, and compassionate group of people has shaped who I am as a nurse,” she says. She strives on a daily basis for excellence and determination, always keeping in mind the art of practice.

For the last several weeks, Simpson has been working in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a Tucson hospital, providing care to COVID-19 patients. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her challenges on the frontline of the battle against the deadly virus.

"I truly believe that receiving education from such an intelligent, devoted, and compassionate group of people has shaped who I am as a nurse," ~ Abbi Simpson, UArizona Nursing DNP Student

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

This is a very stressful time—not just because of the risk of infection or of infecting loved ones, but because of the severity of illness caused by the virus. However, one thing that I don’t hear discussed as often is the emotional impact of working with patients and their loved ones through the devastation that the virus can cause. I work in a medical ICU with an incredible group of people, and I think that this is a very influential component, as most of us are driven by our passion for serving the community and love for our patients. There are moments when this feels overwhelming, but I often find myself feeling very inspired as I see the constant devotion, courage, strength, and resilience of my coworkers continuing to shine through.

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

This situation has demanded an extraordinary level of flexibility and adaptability on all health care levels as daily practices continually change based on new information, resource availability, and the spread of the virus. For many nurses, this means caring for patients who are more commonly seen in other specialties in order to accommodate staffing needs for COVID patients, and adapting work flows due to fluctuations in resources. As a bedside ICU nurse, this is exacerbated when you add in personal protective equipment (PPE) because it changes your whole routine. It's hot, hard to talk, and by the end of the day, hard to breath. On top of all of this, you worry about everything you touch inside and outside the room, and wash your hands until they're cracked and raw.

How are nurses in your community fighting this epidemic?

Nurses in my community have responded to this epidemic in courageous and creative ways. There have been nurses from specialties that have had a reduced workload that have volunteered to get cross-trained to provide care for COVID patients as more of the population has been affected; nurses that have volunteered to support those providing direct patient care by assisting with PPE to help make sure that no one self-contaminates, acting as supply “runners” to limit the amount of donning and doffing each nurse has to do, and/or helping to wipe down frequently touched surfaces several times a day; and nurses who have been working behind the scenes by doing things like sewing masks and educating the public on social distancing and infection prevention measures. These efforts, and those of the nursing community at large, have been very inspiring and make me incredibly proud to be a nurse.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Beyond the global struggle to persevere through the impacts of the virus and find a new normal, my biggest challenge has been reminding myself to take time for the things that nourish my mind, body, and spirit. Nurses are notoriously bad at self-care, and I’m no exception. However, with the challenges and chaos of COVID-19 on top of school, work, and the needs of my family, finding and maintaining balance is more difficult, but also more crucial, than it ever has been.

During these challenging times, what gives you hope and helps you stay positive?

The most encouraging thing has been the community support that health care workers have received. Community members have been sewing masks and surgical caps, businesses have donated supplies, and local restaurants have brought lunch for the entire hospital on multiple occasions. We’ve received countless letters and expressions of gratitude. Honestly, I feel honored to have the opportunity to serve my community during this time of need.

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

Trying to balance the two has been very difficult, especially in a time when everyone is already struggling to find a way to accept the reality of our current situation and learn to live in uncertainty. I admire many of my peers who have been able to do this. Trying to fulfill my responsibilities at work, manage my stress level, and also somehow conjure the energy and focus for school seemed like work best left to a magician. There are still many unknowns, but I’ve settled into the idea of constant change as the new normal, and with the support I’ve received from my family, advisor, and professors, that magician’s task has been a lot more doable.