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IHP Nursing Students - the Only Ones at Boston Hope - Provide Direct Care for COVID-19 Patients

May 14, 2020
BSN students Joanna Ghilardi, Ally Luongo, and Melissa Richard during their WCVB-TV interview at Boston Hope.
BSN students Joanna Ghilardi, Ally Luongo, and Melissa Richard during their WCVB-TV interview at Boston Hope.

It was Joanna Ghilardi’s first day at Boston Hope, and she was just getting her feet wet at the field hospital that had quickly been created at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients.

“I met a physical therapist who had been furloughed and decided to volunteer as a personal care assistant,” said Ghilardi, a member of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing’s Class of 2020. “On every shift I heard similar stories. I worked with a nurse who now works for a drug company but she has operating room experience. Everyone had just shown up to help. From the beginning, it’s been a team experience.”

Watch the WCVB-TV segment interviewing the students and faculty.

It’s also been a unique experience. Ghilardi and more than 50 other classmates have been the only nursing students providing direct patient care at the 1,000-bed hospital run by the Mass General Brigham health care system. Half the beds are for recovering COVID-19 patients and the other half are for homeless individuals who tested positive. The care is being directed by Dr. Jeanette Ives Erickson, chair of the MGH Institute’s Board of Trustees, chief nurse emerita of Massachusetts General Hospital, and a 2011 Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate.

“I thought I was just going to get my clinical hours done at Boston Hope, and instead I had this life-altering experience that the IHP made possible for us,” said student Melissa Richard. “I’ve known I wanted to help people for a long time, but this opened a window for me about empathy in a time of great uncertainty.” 

The students have received a crash course in pandemic health care. There was the marvel of seeing how a convention center could be turned into a field hospital, and how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ran the operation with its fabled precision. The students became experts in wearing and protecting their PPE, the personal protective equipment that includes gloves, a face mask, and a plastic face shield. Over the course of working a 12-hour shift, each student takes care of two patients on average. 

“It’s a long day and wearing all the PPE makes it harder, but I’ve learned a lot because I’ve worked with different nurses on every shift,” said Ally Luongo, who admitted she had been nervous when she arrived for her first shift. “Everyone does things a little differently, so that has been great.”

Debra Kelly, an assistant professor of nursing, spent hours organizing the placement. She recruited 12 nursing faculty to supervise the students, who she said are having accelerated clinical experiences. “Students have had to do a lot of critical thinking because they’re working side by side with nurses and faculty in a role designed to function as  nurses,” she said. That includes interacting with other nurses as well as doctors, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and other health care providers – exactly the type of interprofessional experiences they’ve had as IHP students.

Clinical Instructor Ruth Lackie speaks to WCVB-TV about what BSN students are experiencing at Boston Hope.

Clinical Instructor Ruth Lackie speaks to WCVB-TV about what BSN
students are experiencing at Boston Hope.

The students are also learning how to communicate with patients, many of whom may be feeling anxious as their days recovering from the coronavirus has stretched on. “I tell them that sometimes you can just sit at a patient’s bedside and be a presence,” said Ruth Lackie, one of the clinical instructors. “That’s a huge gift because they have no family here.”

Ghilardi said she has learned a lot. “I probably never would have come in contact with some of these patients,” she said, “particularly the ones who are homeless. I never would have sat down and had a conversation with someone, whether they were out on the street or in a shelter. But I’ve learned about their experiences, that something went wrong in their life. Maybe it was mental health, maybe it was housing. But now I can say that what they’ve been through and where they are living is not who they are.”

For Richard, her experience has triggered a professional mind shift. “Two weeks ago, I was having lunch with my instructor and she said, ‘Are you thinking about your patient right now?’ And I realized that I was, even though we were having lunch,” she said. “I hadn’t realized I was doing this until she said it. That gave me this sense of responsibility for my patients.” 

It’s why Lackie has encouraged her students to keep a journal: so they can look back and see how much they’re grown and learned. “By writing down what they’re experiencing, I’m hoping they’ll find something in themselves that they didn’t know was there before,” she said. 

-    By Alyssa Haywoode