They are medical experts, educators, advocates. Many patients call them angels. Here’s a glimpse at the work of three Adventist HealthCare nurses and insight into what ignites their passion for caring for others.
ICU: Sacred Moments Transcend Work
In August 2019, Cecilia Blanc, a medical/surgical unit nurse at Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, Maryland, Unites States, transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, turning her world upside down.
Instead of running from the unknown, Blanc faced it head on, becoming an assistant nurse manager on the unit in September 2021. And while life working in the ICU has always been a rollercoaster, COVID-19 presented its own set of challenges.
“We’ve been caring for COVID-19 patients for a while now,” Blanc said, “but at the beginning, I was completely blindsided by how sick these patients were. I’m more used to it now, but it has been a huge adjustment.”
Blanc starts her workdays by getting up and exercising and then heading off to the hospital. When she gets in, the nurses on the unit have a huddle to pass along any important updates, and she gets a report from the previous shift about every patient on the unit.
After doing rounds and checking in with her patients, Blanc evaluates materials and equipment on the unit.
One thing Blanc said she has missed during the pandemic is the ability for face-to-face time with her teammates.
“With COVID around, we can’t be in the break rooms together or eat together at the same time,” she said. “I underestimated the time we spent together talking, bonding, and sharing prior to COVID. That’s been hard because our working relationships are so important. We miss each other.”
Although they can’t work as closely as they might have before COVID, her team is the reason she made it through the past two years, Blanc says. Despite the challenges of the ICU, she is still proud of the resiliency of her team, and herself.
“Sometimes on the unit, we’re the only ones allowed to be with patients while they are dying,” she said. “So we don our PPE and go into their rooms, making sure we are holding their hands in their last moments. It’s an honor to take care of the patients from the beginning to the end. Moments like that make it worth coming in every day.”
Operating Room: Constant Change a Certainty
Hanah Sison didn’t set out to become a nurse, but now she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I originally wanted to become a chef, because I love to cook and eat,” Sison, the operating room (OR) charge nurse at Adventist HealthCare Fort Washington Medical Center, said. “Being a nurse is a fulfilling job, so it wasn’t hard for me to love what I do.”
Originally from the Philippines, Sison received her nursing degree and worked in the Philippines for five years before moving to the United States in 2016. She began working at Fort Washington Medical Center in Maryland in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the first wave of the pandemic, when vaccines weren’t available, Sison said, she worried about the safety of her family and the people around her who were high risk. She knew working in health care meant she and her team had to be ready for what was to come.
Her teammates have helped her through the difficult, turbulent days. “We treat each other like family. We always help each other out,” Sison said.
Though health care during a pandemic is never “typical,” Sison usually begins her day at 7:00 a.m. She dons her uniform — scrubs, scrub cap, face mask, and eye shield — and makes her rounds through the OR and Patient Recovery Unit. The walkthrough gives her an idea of what is going on at the hospital and what her team’s day could look like.
As a charge nurse, Sison oversees the workflow and continuity of care in Fort Washington’s OR and Patient Recovery Unit, a fast-paced environment where minor issues, small tasks, and emergency cases pop up frequently. These make up most her day. She does rounds frequently to understand how to help her team members with their workload and to ensure they get the breaks they need. She puts together call lists, room assignments, and schedules. She updates a white board so her team can see their assignments for the day, who is on call, and which shifts need coverage.
The most difficult aspect of being an OR nurse, Sison said, is the struggle to find personal time.
“I work closely with patients, and most of the time I must prioritize them over anything else,” Sison said. That means staying late to finish a case or coming in on a day off to help. “Once we get called in, through rain, shine, or snow, we have to come in for our patients.”
The best part of the job is being able to “pay it forward,” and giving back to her patients just as others have given her opportunities and blessings in the past.
“I enjoy the sense of fulfillment, when I know that I helped someone, in one way or another, get through their tough times and to be a part of their healing process.”
Despite the challenges she’s overcome as a nurse — the process of moving to a new country and working during an unprecedented global pandemic — Sison is optimistic, excited for her future, and thankful to be where she is.
“They say if you love what you do, you can overcome any difficulties,” Sison said. “I believed in myself and my dream to become a good nurse and to help my family have a better life. If I was given the opportunity to turn back time and be able to choose between being a chef and being a nurse, I would still choose to be a nurse.”
Cardiac Cath Lab: Heart Care Finely Tuned
“We’re your pit crew, and we take care of everything you need with teamwork and precision.” That’s how Lester Ortiz, manager of the Catheterization (Cath) and Electrophysiology (EP) labs at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, explains to some patients what the cath lab team does to prepare for a heart procedure.
The team of nurses and techs that prepares the patient, room, and equipment for each procedure work a lot like a race car’s pit crew, Ortiz points out. It’s their business to work together, yet they each have specific tasks that ensure a heart procedure is safe and goes smoothly for the patient.
The cath lab nurses, who assist the interventional cardiologist performing a heart procedure, have a unique view and role to play. “We see the heart pumping, the heart arteries, and if we find a problem, the team can fix it right away,” Ortiz said. “In our field, a stent is placed in an artery, and we watch the blood flow return to the heart. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ortiz starts his day with a three-mile (4.8-kilometer) bike ride to work. “Biking to work is my cup of coffee,” he said.
He and the rest of the team arrive at 7:00 a.m., and work begins right away to prepare the room, make a sterile tray, get the necessary medicines, and learn about the first patient of the day. Once the patient and the doctor arrive at the lab, a nurse connects the patient to the monitor to keep the patient safe during the one-to-two-hour procedure.
When the procedure is finished, Ortiz or another nurse gives a report or shares information with the nurse who will care for the patient in a specialized cardiac care recovery area for the next few hours. The cath lab team repeats the process for each patient and procedure that day.
Ortiz thrives on teamwork and leans on his faith in God as the foundation for all his interactions. “It’s the little things that show we are not living for ourselves,” Ortiz said. “When a patient comes in anxious, I take the opportunity to sit with them and explain that they’ll be OK. That’s why I’m a nurse.”
“When they feel loved, they can trust you and feel more comfortable in your care,” he added. “We strive for it.”
Ortiz has also been a part of patient care from another angle, in the emergency department (ED).
In 2000, Ortiz working as an ED intern at Washington Adventist Hospital (now White Oak Medical Center). He was part of a program that was a precursor to Adventist HealthCare’s current Nurse Residency program, which provides training and a nurse preceptor to new graduates during their first six months on the job.
“Emergency department nursing is very busy and gives you the chance to experience and care for a variety of health conditions,” Ortiz said. “Emergency care is wonderful. I loved it.”
After 15 years of ED nursing, Ortiz was ready to shift gears. That’s when he moved into cath lab nursing. “I wanted to continue to grow and expand on my critical care skills while continuing to work for Adventist HealthCare.” It was the right move. “Cath lab nursing is completely different, and it’s so great,” he added.
His emergency experience helps with another unique responsibility of the cath lab team: to be ready 24/7 for patients who are having a heart attack. Adventist HealthCare cath lab nurses and technicians rotate on-call duty, so hospitals always have an expert team ready to rapidly treat a patient.
Ortiz recently became a nurse manager of his team after five years as a cath lab nurse. He said he is delighted to be a leader and to help continue the strong legacy of heart care at Adventist HealthCare.