Q and A with Hostos Alumna Karen Garcia ‘12

MSN-Ed, RN, CEN., Lincoln Hospital S. Bronx



Q: How have you been involved in our city’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?


A: As a city worker, I am directly involved during the initial response of this outbreak. My involvement in COVID-19 outbreak is treating patients that arrive in the emergency room and providing the best nursing care possible. I also stressed the importance of hand washing, using masks, and staying home to my patients, family, and friends to “flatten the curve.”

My hospital received many traveling nurses to help supplement our staffing during this outbreak. Training travelers has put me in an impromptu leadership and educator role as I familiarized them with our policies, procedures and guidelines. Some nurses aren’t familiar with the equipment we are using, so I had to teach them how to operate it as well. When I am assigned to our hospital’s trauma team, there are times I become a team leader and organize the travelers so they are clear on their assignments and responsibilities, and what is expected of them.


Q: On average, how many patients have you treated since this pandemic started?


A: The month of March was when I started seeing the arrival of COVID-19 patients. At first, patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms were about 1 to 14 cases in the first week then exponentially increased to around 30, 50, 80 in the following weeks—the highest number of COVID-19 suspected cases we had in one day was 110 patients. For the month of March alone, my hospital had seen and treated 2,422 patients displaying COVID-19 symptoms in our emergency room.


Q: What have you learned from this crisis?


A: Several lessons I’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic are:

  1. Life is unpredictable. I can plan as much as I like, but ultimately nothing is guaranteed in life. Be prepared to adapt and revise as needed.  

  2. Teamwork is necessary. Not just with fellow nurses, but with other members from different teams. I had to rely on doctors, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and auxiliary staff to provide safe, efficient, and effective care to the patients. It was comforting to know that although we were all scared for our families and ourselves, we are not facing this unknown enemy alone.

  3. Remember to focus on what really matters. Having my health, family, fundamental needs met is a great blessing. This pandemic refocused my priorities and reminded me that my time and health are precious resources and shouldn’t be wasted on trivial pursuits.


Q: What is the best advice you have for upcoming medical/nursing professionals should future pandemics arise?


A: To be better prepared our medical professionals must remember:

  1. ALWAYS protect yourself first. Don’t rush to a patient’s side without adequate personal protective equipment. Taking necessary precautions to safeguard your health is important. When nurses are sick, they can’t take care of sick patients. You are also preventing transmitting the disease(s) to your fellow workers.

  2. Take care of yourself: don’t neglect your own health, including your mental health. Try to stay as healthy and maintain as much normalcy as you can.

  3. Don’t lose your humanity in a pandemic. During a pandemic, there will be high volumes of patients coming to the hospital. As a nurse, it’s normal to feel exhausted and discouraged, but resist the urge of just “going through the motions” when treating your patients.  Remember that each patient is a unique individuals with their own stories, families, hopes, dreams, and fears—just like we are.

  4. It’s normal to be afraid and discouraged, but remember that you’re not in this alone. Affirm and encourage one another often; it may be the one thing that gets everyone through difficult times.

  5. Learn as much as you can. I had to rely on my nursing knowledge base even more because there were times when I was alone and had to draw on both my theoretical and practical knowledge to guide my nursing care.

  6. Make sure you have adequate supplies and protection for the situation you are facing and ensure you have enough to last for an extended period of time.

  7. Be prepared to adapt. Policies and guidelines change everyday, so do your best to stay informed to current practice.


Q: How has your role or perspective changed as a result of the current crisis?


A: My perspective that healthcare can change in an instant is affirmed during this crisis. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, doctors were intubating patients (placing a tube down their throat to help with breathing) immediately at the first sign of respiratory distress. Now, they are delaying intubation as much as possible and using techniques such as proning (laying a person on their stomach to improve oxygen exchange) for better outcomes. Healthcare is an ever-changing landscape, and what we thought is best practice today may not be recommended next week.


Q: What would you like to tell our Hostos Community based on your experiences?


A: Nursing was not what I expected—it was more than what I dreamed it would be! It is a rewarding and exciting profession, but at times can be difficult. There are times I cried, laughed, or simply shook my head in disbelief. There are times I felt like giving up, but deep down I knew that I can’t turn away from my calling.

I am also grateful for the training I had as a nursing student at Hostos to be able to meet the demands of the job. Another upside is that I have the opportunity to call other Hostos Alumni my coworkers, so we’re one big family in the emergency room! We are not only connected by our work in the ER, we are connected by our roots in Hostos! You’ll never know where you’ll meet a fellow alumni, and that’s what makes this experience more personal and exciting to me.

To students and future nurses, Work towards your dreams and goals, and prepare yourself with the needed tools to make it a reality. Things may be hard now, but remember that anything worth having isn’t easy!


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