Posted on Mar 24, 2020

Coronavirus Q & A:  Tiffany Gwartney, DNP, APRN, NNP-BC

Coronavirus Q & A: Tiffany Gwartney, DNP, APRN, NNP-BC

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to respond to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, we asked USF College of Nursing’s Tiffany Gwartney, interim assistant dean of Undergraduate and Global Programs and a neonatal nurse practitioner at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, to share what she’s seeing from the front lines.

What is it like on the front lines now, as the U.S. health care system mobilizes its response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Specifically, what are health care providers like yourself and your team doing now to prepare?

Much like the military, when you “sign up” to become a nurse, your occupational choice comes with great sacrifice. Your work family becomes the family with whom you spend many of your difficult days. You grow accustomed to personal sacrifices in order to care for your patients as your first priority. But rather than being upset that we are being called to action in a global pandemic, we hug our family members and take our place of honor, caring for the sickest patients in their highest time of need. It’s what makes us tick, reenergizes us, and keeps us returning shift after shift.

You must be inundated by questions from family and friends. What is the most common question they are asking and what is your answer?

First and foremost, the question I hear is, “Do you think this whole thing is as big or deadly as they say it is?” I’m not formally extensively trained in public health, but it’s been something I have always had a great interest in. For that reason, this question gives me an opportunity to educate people about prevalence, incidence, mortality, risk factors, public health decision-making, and general epidemiological concepts. Given the trends in other countries, the novelty of this virus, and the brokenness of our health care system in terms of having disaster plans in place and being able to respond to a steep spike in demand for health care services, these precautions and mandates mitigate the demand upon the areas where our health care system has gaps.

In what ways are our hospitals well prepared? When this is over, how do you think they can be better prepared in the future?

Generally speaking, our country has been complacent with regard to disaster preparedness for a public health crisis. This pandemic is shining a light on the gaps in the system and helping us truly look at the areas that we need to fortify and improve our practice, including communication, protocols, alternate protocols, staff, and supplies. That being said, I have seen some impressive efforts from some area hospitals in terms of using simulation to prepare. In the future, stronger collaboration among academic and clinical organizations will lead to more informed, thorough, and synergistic disaster preparedness.

What are our students learning from this pandemic experience?

This is such an incredible time to be a nursing student! While this is not ideal in a lot of students’ minds in terms of having to flex, flex, and flex a bit more, this is a once-in-a-lifetime, unprecedented, unforgettable lesson in public health. They are learning about how the public depends on us to educate them. They are learning that being a nurse means you put your fears and anxiety aside, put on your brave face, arm yourself with knowledge, put on your thinking cap, and care for your patients to the best of your ability. They are learning that nurses are leaders…at the bedside, in their household, in their communities…we lead our patients, friends, and families from a place of illness to wellness.

As testing ramps up, the next focus is keeping health care providers on the front lines safe and healthy. What are the extra steps or precautions being taken? What is your comfort level in that regard?

As nursing students, we are trained in universal precautions and use them with each patient interaction, and in our personal lives. These precautions keep us safe. With this particular situation, we are being asked to use airborne and droplet precautions. I’ve been equipped well to care for patients whether they have a COVID-19 infection, or a hang nail. While it may not be completely within my control to avoid a COVID-19 infection, I have a lot of resources with which to protect myself and my patients. I have been carefully trained to respond to any and all health-related emergencies. The goals of my employer, my community, and the world are unified for once. We are all trying to do the best we can in a difficult situation, and those are the tenets that feed my calm demeanor…that and a LOT of chocolate.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing

Hear from other faculty and alumni featured on Nursing Leadership: Fortitude from the Front Lines:

Victoria Mejia

Dr. Erik Rauch

Dr. Marc Rosales