Posted on Apr 7, 2020

Coronavirus Q & A: Victoria Mejia, CRNA

Coronavirus Q & A: Victoria Mejia, CRNA

As New York enters its most grim week yet amid the COVID-19 pandemic, USF College of Nursing alumna Victoria Mejia, who graduated from the nurse anesthesia program in 2018, headed to the front lines.

Mejia works as a certified registered nurse anesthetist at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. On April 6, she began her four-week volunteer commitment at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan where every patient is COVID-19 positive.

How did you become a volunteer headed to the front lines in New York?

A survey asked us if we were willing to work as a nurse or nurse practitioner during this crisis, and where we were willing to go. I said nationwide. A week before leaving, I got a call asking if I’d be willing to go to New York. I said yes.

What is your commitment?

I signed a four-week contract. All I knew was that we’d be doing three 12-hour shifts, minimum. Either days or nights. We’d be staying at a Marriott somewhere in New York, and we’d be working at one of the Mount Sinai hospitals.

How was your first day?

I showed up and they said, boom, change of plans. You’re not doing that. You’re doing something totally different. You’re not going to be on days, you’re going to be on nights. So we’re just kind of flying by the seat of our pants. Wherever we can fill a need, we’re filling it. Today we worked as a respiratory therapist, because that’s what they needed. Tomorrow it might be different.

As a respiratory therapist, what were you doing?

We were going around checking all the different ventilators. We’re hoping this isn’t what we’ll be doing every day, because it’s an underutilization of our skills. Today, that’s where they needed us.

I met a nurse practitioner in the ICU who was extremely overwhelmed. They’ve turned normal nurses who were doing these specialized things into ICU nurses overnight. I felt terrible for them. I was able to help her get her patient under control. I feel like that’s how we’re going to help going forward. She was overwhelmed, and I think we were able to relieve some of that stress. That’s what our goal is here.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

They needed it, so of course I’m going to go. We swore an oath and that’s who we are. We’re happy to help anywhere that we can.

Did you bring your own PPE?

I brought a few N95s. I brought a respirator that my dad purchased for me. A lot of other people did the same thing. Walking in today, we had our N95s on. We had our goggles on. We walked in prepped and ready. Every single patient in this hospital is COVID-19 positive.

In the future, I hope we get N95s. They’re saying for most people, it’s one (N95) per week. But for people who are with patients every day, it’ll be closer to one (N95) per shift. We are still using things again that we never would have before, like using the same gown to travel from patient to patient. They are just changing their gloves, because there just aren’t enough to go around.

Did it feel like a war zone? What was your biggest takeaway from the first day?

There was definitely a little bit of chaos, which we expected, because things are evolving every single day. Nothing is the same. Even from the start of our shift to the end of our shift, things evolved. Policies changed. So the moment you think you know what you’re doing, the rug is slipped underneath you, and it’s like boom, something new.

I feel like CRNAs thrive in that kind of situation. We kind of love chaos, so that’s something that we’re down to do. We’re excited to be able to help them organize the way they are doing things to be more efficient.

At this point, I think it is a war zone. It will continue to feel like that. It will get worse before it gets better. But we’re hoping we can help them try to make it an organized war zone. There’s just an easier, more efficacious way to be able to do everything.

Do you foresee doing more things like intubating patients?

That’s probably in our future. They’re talking about putting us on intubation teams and code teams. If we stay at this hospital, we’ll likely see that in our future. It was just our first day. We were getting our feet wet. I don’t think they understand our (CRNA) roles as much, so we’re trying to educate them on that.

Any other thoughts?

As a CRNA, we’re very well-equipped to handle these types of situations. We’re just really excited to be able to jump in, help, and try to make a difference wherever we can. We’re super stoked.

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing

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

Dr. Tiffany Gwartney

Dr. Erik Rauch

Dr. Marc Rosales