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Servant Leader Heroes During First Days of COVID-19  

Katherine Connolly

In addition to her role as assistant professor in the College of Nursing, Dr. Connolly also serves as an associate director of the University's Buccino Leadership Development Institute, representing the College.

An assistant professor in the College of Nursing for the past 8 years, Katherine Connolly, D.N.P., RN, APN-C currently practices as a nurse practitioner in the acute care setting and recently shared her story of facing the coronavirus pandemic head on.

Thursday, March 26, 2020—it was no ordinary day for a nurse practitioner in a community hospital. It was a day in midst of the Covid-19 virus and a real wakeup call regarding the gravity of the looming crisis. After passing a security checkpoint where my temperature is checked, I am handed a surgical mask as my ticket for entry. There is not a single visitor to be seen, hospital personnel only, all wearing surgical masks.

The day started out with orientation from my director regarding the current status of the hospital and how the crisis is being managed:

The step-down unit has been converted to an ICU to accommodate the number of patients needing critical care. Also, two med-surg units have been dedicated to positive Covid-19 patients or those under investigation for the virus — both units are nearly full. I am told there is a shortage of PPE gear, especially masks — requiring us to use the same mask all day, even after being with a Covid-19 positive patient. What?? OK…

Before the update is over, the ICU manager calls in to report that he is concerned about the morale of the nurses and physicians in the ICU. On speaker phone I hear: "We are seeing a lot of death here." His words are unexpected, and they hit me to my core. The thought of those patients dying without family members present is unsettling, highlighting the immense responsibility placed on bedside providers as their sole support system.

At that moment, I could not help but reflect on the many nursing students that I have taught over the past 14 years. They have sifted through my hands like sands through an hourglass and the time has passed so quickly. I wondered where they all were now; likely somewhere battling this war on the frontlines, and I prayed they were safe. I thought about the ones who were special to me, the ones who were so passionate, so smart and so competent. I knew they were making a difference and I felt so proud of them and so honored to be a part of their nursing journey.

While I have always known that my students look up to me as a role model, I have also known that nursing students surpass their teachers in record time. This came to mind as I encountered one of my nursing students who graduated just last year and was working as a nurse on a dedicated COVID-19 unit. She was obviously exhausted, working under extremely challenging conditions. I told her and another nurse what heroes they were. She told my colleague that I was making rounds with that I was her Pharmacology professor, and then she looked at me as if to say she was surprised and touched that I would call HER a hero. I told her how very proud I was of her. At that moment, I realized that the seriousness of these times can only be fully appreciated by those seeing the crisis from the inside, those working on the so-called frontlines.

This was reinforced by another encounter that evening with an ICU Intensivist when I asked how he was doing? This wasn't an ordinary, superficial "how are you doing," it was one that communicated "I know you are under extreme duress — how are you holding up?" I think he just needed an opportunity to express how very difficult it was. He talked about how long hours and hard work are part of the profession and it's what we signed up for, but this… this was almost too much to bear. He told me the virus made him feel helpless, and simply put, the patients were not surviving. He described how quickly they decompensate and how frustrating it was to have no concrete guidelines for management, how it's a learn as you go situation with so many unknowns. Most significantly though, he told me he was scared… scared to get the virus, scared to bring it home to his wife and daughter. His wife is on an immunosuppressant medication for rheumatoid arthritis and he is afraid to go home. After tonight, like many healthcare providers, he will spend the night in a hotel and thinks he will stay away from his family until the crisis calms down.

That evening, I saw several suspected Covid-19 patients. Objective data raising suspicion for the virus is very convincing even before the case is confirmed positive. My one consolation was that the pharmacy had medications readily available and we were starting the patients suspected of having the virus on hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax. I was able to tell worried family members on the phone that their loved one might have the virus but that we are already treating them with medications that could help them recover faster.

During these difficult times I have never been prouder of my colleagues and have never admired them more. The coronavirus pandemic has given a brand new meaning the word teamwork. While the nurses and doctors are truly heroes, every single person in the hospital is vitally important. The need to rely on each other is more pronounced than it ever has been, and we need to stay strong together because the world is watching — and they are counting on us.


Katherine Connolly, D.N.P., RN, APN-C is a nurse educator and mentor at the College of Nursing in the undergraduate department. Understanding the importance of developing the next generation of nurses to advance healthcare in our country, she is known for implementing innovative teaching methodologies to improve critical thinking.

In addition to serving as an educator, Dr. Connolly is also a former student of the College, having earned both her M.S.N. and D.N.P. degrees from Seton Hall. She has practiced in multiple patient care areas including in-patient and out-patient settings, and in the clinical research role, specializing in cardiology and internal medicine.

Dr. Connolly's scholarly work and clinical practice have focused on improving the quality of care delivered in the hospital setting. She is a published author in The Journal of Nurse Practitioners and a mentor and preceptor for nurse practitioner students. She serves on the governance board of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society, Gamma Nu chapter, and is also a nationally certified advance practice nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Dr. Connolly also serves as an associate director of the University's Buccino Leadership Development Institute, representing nursing. This inter-disciplinary program is dedicated to the strategic development of leaders at the undergraduate level, answering the call to increase the influence of nursing leadership in the healthcare sector. The program is unique in that professional and personal development begin Freshman year and are threaded throughout the undergraduate curriculum.

Categories: Health and Medicine

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