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Nurses save lives every day. During these challenging times, they’re needed now more than ever. Nurses and hospital staff are constantly putting their lives at risk in the fight against COVID-19. We value their heroic work on the frontlines, and we believe their stories should be shared.

Nick Tate
Nick Tate

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and are celebrating the honorable profession on World Health Day on April 7. This year, the WHO highlights the current status of nursing around the world. The WHO and its partners plan to make a series of recommendations to strengthen of the nursing and midwifery workforce.

World Health Day also takes place during World Health Workers Week. The theme for World Health Workers week is “frontline workers.”

As part of our contribution to World Health Day and World Health Workers Week, we spoke with Nicole Duffey, SVP & General Manager, SSD, General Strategic Solutions Corporate, and Kathleen Mandziuk, MPH, RN VP, Patient Strategy & Digital Health, to share their frontline nursing insight and experience.

Mandziuk Kathleen

Kathleen Mandziuk

What is your nursing experience?

My background is in trauma and ER nursing at the trauma center at George Washington University Hospital in DC. When I moved back to Philly in search of nursing jobs, most of the area health systems were merging and on hiring freezes. I ended up taking a position in pharma doing data review and research.

Why are people with nursing backgrounds drawn to this industry?

When I first came into the healthcare industry, I was not aware that clinical research opportunities existed. I found a contract job doing data review for clinical trials that launched me into this industry. The current healthcare environment offers much more visibility and options beyond traditional nursing.

How do nurses’ contributions fit into PRA, into our interactions, and drive our industry forward?

There are many opportunities depending on your skill set, particularly as a nurse. Since I come from a trauma ER nurse background, a CRO is a great environment for me. It moves quickly and each day brings different tasks. You need to be agile at making decisions and juggle your workload over a long period of time. All of the skills you gain in nursing can be applied to research.

There are many ways we can leverage our skills at PRA. Technology and virtual environments give our industry a unique array of options. For example, within our Care Innovations group, we have a central group of nurses who are doing consenting with real patients. They provide follow-ups with virtual support, whether it’s in commercial or research. Given the COVID-19 situation, we’re only going to see more solutions like these on the rise.

What suggestions would you make to strengthen the nursing workforce (inspire people to make it their career, improvement for facilities, investments leaders can make in the industry, etc.)?

We need more visibility within nursing schools. Years ago, I didn’t know much about the clinical research industry, even though many of my professors had master’s in public health degrees and backgrounds in research. Today, because of the role variability, it’s important to make clinical research a viable career option for a variety of professions.

We also need to still inspire future nurses to go into patient care. We need to strike a balance between people actively on clinical site or on the research side, and if they can do both. That’s an example of flexibility—where roles vary enough that you can find what fits for you.

What can the general public do to elevate and support nurses, especially during these challenging times?

I’ve since gone back to school and obtained a Master’s of Public Health, focused on epidemiology. This give me a broader view on the importance of public health – and the impact and intersection with healthcare delivery and research. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, a more integrated and flexible healthcare environment is needed. A hospital recently told me they needed to focus their nurses and staff on their most critical patients. Many of their staff members are getting sick themselves. That brings up the question: Can our industry offset some of the volume that’s inundating these hospitals, nurses, and staff?

The tools and infrastructure that we put into place in PRA set the foundation for driving clinical care in research and beyond. Care Innovations has an in-home monitoring solution available right now for COVID-19 patients. If a hospital has less-severe patients who can managed at home or discharged earlier, we can do Bluetooth-enabled device monitoring on those patients and tele-visits using our holistic platform. Hospitals are approaching us directly to provide this solution.

Over the last 13 years at PRA, the investments we’ve made come together to bring in-person physical care to whoever needs it most. We can help limit health care providers from exposure to volumes and volumes of people. It will be an exciting new normal moving forward.

How are you supporting or offering services to your nursing network during the pandemic?

I’m currently acutely focused on what PRA can deliver during this time to support delivery of healthcare in unique ways. The interesting thing about nurses is that we’re scrappy. When you’re dealing with severe critical healthcare decisions and actions, you just have to dig in, be creative and do the work. We’re able to jump in and provide resources and solutions immediately. That’s what nurses bring to the table—we can quickly think through situations, choose the best path and act fast on behalf of the patient.

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Nicole Duffey

What is your nursing background?

I went straight into oncology nursing out of school. The pace of oncology is certainly different than that of the emergency room, but it’s just as critical.

From oncology nursing in the hospital, I went into home healthcare and served in the community. I went to patients’ homes, educating them, taking care of them, and essentially continuing their care when they transitioned from the acute inpatient setting to their homes.

Why are people with nursing backgrounds drawn to this industry?

It’s a career option, but like Kathleen, I also kind of fell into it. A pharmaceutical company was looking for nurses to review clinical data. I was starting a family and thought it was a good opportunity. For me, though, the difference between this industry and working directly in patient care is that the this industry allows nurses to broaden their impact. I can impact more people through my work at PRA, whereas in the hospitals, despite the criticality and value of the work, the reach of my impact was narrower.

In pharmaceutical research, you can take your nursing knowledge and background and apply it to millions of people globally.

How do nurses’ contributions fit into PRA, into our interactions, and drive our industry forward?

Nurses possess similar characteristics that can be applied within various roles in the healthcare industry. My oncology experience fits with what I’m doing today. What we do is not transactional—it flows across the pharmaceutical organizations’ pipelines. That means our relationships are much longer lasting. At PRA, I’m applying the same principles that I applied when I was working with oncology patients to my work with customers and colleagues; such as listening, trusting, and working hard with both precision and compassion.

There are other areas within clinical research where nurses leverage their experience quite well, such as patient safety and pharmacovigilance. That’s one of the reasons why certain nurses are drawn to this industry—to have a broader impact on keeping patients safe. Some nurses become Study Coordinators or Clinical Research Associates, and their nursing background is important for having thoughtful, meaningful, knowledge-driven conversations with investigators. It’s important for pharmaceutical companies and CROs to have a positive reputation at the investigative site level to maintain and strengthen those relationships.

What suggestions would you make to strengthen the nursing workforce (inspire people to make it their career, improvement for facilities, investments leaders can make in the industry, etc.)?

I fully agree with Kathleen—we need to have more visibility in nursing schools.

My friend’s daughter is in nursing school at my alma mater. A lot has changed in so many years, but not so much has changed! There does not seem to be much visibility into what non-traditional career options exist with a nursing degree. I’ve been speaking with some of our pharmaceutical partners about how we can team up to jointly attend university career fairs and speak to nursing students about our industry. Nurses play a critical role in our society and we need to elevate the importance of the nurse within all industries—traditional and non-traditional.

The second thing to strengthen the workforce, as evidenced by what’s going on now with COVID-19, is reducing the administrative burden and ensuring attention to patient care. As a nurse in the hospital, I felt that burden firsthand and unfortunately it impacted my decision to leave my role in direct patient care.

On a 12-hour night shift in oncology, I had a patient whom I came to know very well. He came in for his treatments, subsequent illnesses relative to chemotherapy and eventually end-of-life care. This patient had no family members and no one by his side.

I was so burdened with a high patient-to-nurse ratio and administrative duties that I wasn’t able to be there by his side to comfort him as he passed. That experience made me realize that organizations must prioritize addressing the burdens that take nurses away from providing optimal patient care.

What can the general public do to elevate and support nurses, especially during these challenging times?

It’s helpful when people are compliant and recognize the current guidelines set in place to avoid spreading the virus. Nurses have always had the ability to lead change, and this challenging time is raising awareness of that. I’d like to see people maintain that awareness beyond this current crisis and support the work that nurses do every day.

This nursing awareness during COVID-19 isn’t new. For example, at the height of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, lack of knowledge and therefore compassion meant that patients were treated quite poorly. It was nurses who became strong advocates and began educating the hospital staff, visitors, the public, and patients themselves about the disease. Because of the work led by nurses, people are now well educated about HIV, and patients receive the care at the standards they are entitled to and deserve. I hope we can take some good from this current health crisis in 2020. I hope that appreciation for nurses and healthcare workers continues beyond today, and that we don’t forget about the people on the front lines who will undoubtedly and deservedly shine as heroes.

We can also encourage employers to draw upon the experiences of nurses they have in the workforce who may not be in the traditional patient care setting. What can they do to make sure nurses’ voices are heard? Some solutions for tapping into the value that nurses can bring to their places of employment can include forming an employee resource group and setting up nurse-led lunch-and-learns.

How are you supporting or offering services to your nursing network during the pandemic?

When it all comes down to it, nurses have common characteristics. Like Kathleen said, we tend to be scrappy, which is true—but we’re also empathetic. We’re listeners.

I provide support not only professionally, but for my friends, neighbors, and family. I’m someone who they can count on to listen in this extremely anxious time. Nurses draw upon their backgrounds to make sure that we’re there for the people who need them. Stepping up for people is a part of who we are.

I wish I could be doing more. Personally, I’ve been contributing to local school food drives. Kids are out of school now, and some of them relied on school to get a good balanced meal or even any meal. I’m drawing on my nursing background to do what I can for families in our community.

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