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2021 Jan

Nurses: Healing Heroes

Meet local nurses and find out why they are the beating heart of health care.

Imagine having to drill into a fresh egg without cracking it. That is how Kelly Ann Talley, a Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Nurse with CHKD, practices intraosseous infusion, the process of drilling into the marrow of the bone to provide a patient with medication or fluids. “Sometimes we aren’t able to access a vein in our sickest patients,” Kelly Ann said. “We have to inject directly into the bone.”

Nurses like Kelly Ann are vital to their patients, the healthcare system, and to society as a whole. They serve as advocates, sounding boards, and liaisons. They educate and support their patients and sometimes effect change in healthcare policies.

According to the American Nurses Association, there are roughly four million registered nurses in the United States, making nursing our country’s largest healthcare profession. Let’s learn more about this field from local nurses and the Executive Director and Dean of Sentara College of Health Sciences.

Best Possible Care by a Dedicated Team

Meet a CHKD Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Nurse

Kelly Ann Talley has been with CHKD for fourteen years—11 years as a nurse in the Neonatal ICU and three years on the transport team. In her current position, Kelly Ann and the other members of this rolling ICU team are called to take over when facilities in Hampton Roads and parts of North Carolina are unsure of what to do. “We have skills for breathing tubes and IVs,” Kelly Ann said. “We have ventilators on our trucks, and we can give blood en route.”

The Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Team drives a brightly colored ambulance that is covered with images of sea creatures. Inside are televisions to help distract the sick or injured children and keep them comforted since their parents cannot ride with them in the vehicle.

While Kelly Ann looks forward to being able to safely give her patients a toy to hold when we are post-pandemic, the most challenging result of COVID for her patients has been the masks that she and the team must wear.

“We are picking up two and three-year-olds, and they can’t see that we are smiling. That is the hardest part for all of us right now. We try to comfort kids, and they can’t see us smile,” she said.

This transport team has a highly recognizable uniform, so even though patients and parents can’t see their smiles, they are often comforted by the blue polos and navy blue pants. “We walk in to touch base with the parents, and they know who we are right away,” she said. “We get to calm down the frightened moms and dads, and we get to see our patients improve. It’s very rewarding.”

Kelly Ann knew early on that she wanted a career in nursing; she even took many of her prerequisites while she was in high school. “I always wanted to take care of the smallest babies, watch all of their little changes, and be supportive of their parents,” she said. And as for her future goals, she has no plans to change careers. “I want to continue to become the best neonatal transport nurse that I can be. I want Hampton Roads and North Carolina to have the best possible care.”

Nursing is a Challenging, Yet Rewarding Profession

Meet Jonathan St. Julien, A CHKD Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Jonathan St. Julien, a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse at CHKD, is thrilled to be doing what he loves: taking care of the tiniest members of the community. It is definitely not without its challenges, though, and it can be a selfless, stressful job. “Individuals considering a career in nursing should make sure it’s what they really want to do. There’s so much of your life that you give up for others,” Jonathan said. “I was fortunate to have been around nurses since I graduated high school and was a medic in the U.S. Air Force. So I knew what I was getting into.”

Shifts in the NICU can be long and trying, but there is also the opportunity for great reward. Jonathan remembers talking to a father who had recently lost a child and was concerned about the health of his newborn. They talked for a while, and Jonathan explained how well trained the staff members were and that they were providing the best possible care. “When we transferred his baby to our step-down unit, he called me and told me how he had lost hope and that I had given him hope again and restored his belief in God,” Jonathan said. “At that moment, I realized that this is my calling.”

When asked if his professional journey has been what he expected, Jonathan replied, “It’s been better than I expected!” He has spent time in Houston and at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount, VA. He has also worked part-time in VCU’s endoscopy department and started the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program at ODU. “My career is still evolving,” he said.

While Jonathan’s department hasn’t been severely impacted by COVID, he wants the community to remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing for the benefit of all healthcare workers. “If healthcare professionals are not able to do their jobs, there won’t be anyone to take care of you,” he said. “We love to take care of our patients, but we also want to go home to our loved ones without getting them sick.”

Nurses Often Act As Patient Advocates

Meet Nurse Kyra Aggison with Chesapeake Regional

Nursing wasn’t Kyra Aggison’s first career, but she sure is grateful she transitioned to the profession. Currently a RN at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Kyra has also worked as a bank manager and a stay-at-home mother. Kyra realized after having a child with a disability that she wanted to speak up for those who could not speak for themselves.

Kyra determined that a career in healthcare would allow her to serve as a patient advocate, and she began taking the required coursework while balancing a household and motherhood. “It definitely wasn’t easy,” she said. “But maybe I appreciate it even more because I was older and paying for classes out of my own pockets.”

In addition to providing direct patient care, Kyra also sees herself as a cheerleader, an uplifter, and a sounding board. “Sometimes patients just want to express how they are feeling,” she said. “They just want to be heard.”

A few months ago, Kyra was caring for a patient who was nearing the end of his life. Despite her incredibly busy shifts, she made time to talk with him. They discussed their life stories, and he provided Kyra with a little advice about life in general. “He passed away a few weeks after that,” Kyra said. “But I’m going to carry his words with me for the rest of my life.”

Kyra believes that nursing is the perfect career for those who want to help and be part of something far greater than themselves. “People need to be in it for the right reasons; it really is an act of service,” she said. Kyra plans to stay in nursing, serving her community and advocating for her patients. “My end goal is to be a nurse practitioner. But I see myself being here quite some time.”

Nurses Must Develop a Wide-Ranging Skill Set

Meet Dr. Angela Taylor, Dean of Sentara College of Health Sciences

Dr. Angela Taylor has previously worked as a nurse, a clinical educator, a staff development educator, and an academic instructor, among other positions. Currently, Dr. Taylor is the Executive Director and Dean of Sentara College of Health Sciences. Because Sentara’s program is hybrid, she has experienced few interruptions due to the pandemic. “We have labs on campus, but much of the program is virtual,” Dr. Taylor said. “I am so fortunate in this position and so well connected to the healthcare system.”

Dr. Taylor has developed nursing courses throughout her career and has witnessed many changes in requirements. In many facilities today, a BSN is necessary for nurses to practice. More nurses are also being prepared at the doctoral level in order to work as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives. In addition to educational requirements, Dr. Taylor expects to see other changes in the future of nursing, like an increase in patient assessment and care via telehealth and healthcare access.

“Nurse practitioners will also begin to practice in clinics in places like Wal-Mart and Target, to provide healthcare services to people who may not have access to primary care within a doctor’s office,” Dr. Taylor said.

Even though educational requirements for nursing have changed over time, they represent only one part of a nurse’s skill set. “Being a nurse requires compassion, communication skills, critical thinking ability, and technical savvy in order to meet the diverse needs of those in our healthcare community,” said Dr. Taylor. “Advocating and caring for patients are core values of nurses. They are the eyes and ears of the doctors who cannot be present for patients at all times.”

Even under normal circumstances, nurses encounter a wide range of stressful situations in a given shift. They help patients through their most vulnerable moments by providing medication, water, comfort, and laughter when they are needed most. They are compassionate, flexible, and selfless and trusted by doctors and patients alike. Perhaps Barack Obama said it best when he addressed the American Nurses Association in 2010 and said, “America’s nurses are the beating heart of our medical system.”


Melissa Face

Melissa Face is the author of I Love You More Than Coffee, an essay collection for parents who love coffee a lot and their kids...a little more. Her essays and articles have appeared in Richmond Family Magazine, Sasee Magazine, and twenty-one volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Read more at www.melissaface.com.

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