Allie Janous, RN, is a medical ICU nurse at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, part of Ascension in Austin, where she cares for COVID-19 patients in a 30-bed unit that has designated more than half the beds for COVID this spring. In the following, she talks about the challenges and rewards of nursing since attaining her licensure in 2014 and joining Dell Seton in September 2019.
What inspired you to become a nurse?
I started doing volunteer work in high school. I was a lifeguard at 16 and learned basic life-support techniques in emergencies. The job taught me the valuable work highly trained professionals do. I knew at that point that I wanted to be involved in life-saving critical care. I’ve worked in a neurosurgical ICU, a burn ICU, a medical/ surgical ICU, and now a COVID ICU.
What is a typical shift like for you?
A typical day is different from what is was three months ago. As the designated COVID-19 ICU in Austin, all the rooms have been equipped as negative air pressure isolation rooms.
When I begin my night shift, I coordinate with the other caregivers and respiratory therapists to understand the timeline and needs for my two assigned rooms. I can’t just go into a room to care for a patient. I first have to put on personal protective equipment and then enter the room alone to prevent infectious spread. Nursing is team-oriented, but now it’s a different approach to teamwork. For instance, there is an isolation cart outside each room containing our protective equipment. Two or three nurses will watch as you don and doff your personal equipment to make sure you are doing it properly, for our own safety and the patients’ safety. Once alone in the room, we’ll use walkie-talkies to communicate with the other caregivers looking in through the corridor windows.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Many patients are on their stomach, they are flipped, so we don’t see their faces. They can’t talk because of the breathing tubes. Much of my time is focused on comforting patients and families and helping them get through a stressful period by educating them about the procedures and assuring them that we are providing the best care possible. COVID ICU’s don’t allow visitors. We use Zoom to help families connect with their loved one and see the life-saving processes in place. Many of our patients are Spanish speaking, and we can order a translator when necessary. It is very satisfying to know I might help relieve families and patients’ stress in some way.
What do you do to find calm or rejuvenate yourself at work?
I try to leave the unit during my break whenever possible. There are a lot of apps that have five-minute meditations to help reduce anxiety. I often will go into an unused conference room at night to meditate or unwind, or I’ll go to the floor below where there is an outdoor patio with plants.
What do you want to tell young people seeking a nursing career?
Nursing is ever-changing and you must be resilient to respond to the critical needs of the moment. The profession offers many career paths, from nurse practitioner, to travel nurse, to teaching, or other paths. Nursing is challenging but rewarding—and the rewarding parts outweigh the challenging parts.
If not a nurse, what would you be?
I love to paint. I do impressionist work and I find it calming after a busy shift. I wish we could show the public what happens in an ICU, so they can better understand the work we do.
About the Series
The World Health Organization (W.H.O) has designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Over the next several months, we will celebrate nurses’ contributions to the healthcare profession through a series of conversations with top nurse across specialties. Read previous posts in the series, Celebrating the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and A Conversation with Sarah A. Cypher.