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BC Alumni Discuss Working On The Front Lines Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

Four Boston College graduates discussed the role of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic with hosts Joyce Edmonds, a professor in the Connell School of Nursing, and Brian Gareau, dean of the Core Curriculum, on BC’s virtual “Show @ 6” on Tuesday. 

The show began with a discussion of the graduates’ personal experiences working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I felt that it was a moral and social obligation and a calling that I had to use my Boston College education to care for children and their families during the most vulnerable times in their lives,” said Catherine McQuade, BC ’15, who currently works in the cardiac intensive care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. “I think that being a nurse during the COVID pandemic is really a continuation of that passion and an extension of that responsibility that I feel to pursue the common good.”

Gianna Cancemi, BC ’20, the most recent graduate of the guests, reflected on her decision to stay in Boston and continue working as an EMT. 

“When school closed, I had the option to just go back home to New York and come back in the fall for my job, but I thought, ‘It’s my responsibility, if I was trained to do this job, I should be doing it,’” said Cancemi. “So I managed to find my way back up to Boston to keep working.”

There was a general consensus among the graduates that constant protocol changes regarding proper use of personal protective equipment and sanitation methods have become a new norm for health care workers, and each guest stressed how hard they and their colleagues work to stay on top of the changes. 

“It’s kind of nerve-racking to be on the front line with all the changes and be subjected to that, but I think BC has prepared me very well, and my colleagues, to take care of these patients and step up to the task at hand,” said Aristotle Boslet, BC ’18, who currently works as an intensive care unit nurse at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. 

Cancemi explained how her role as an EMT has evolved to include helping comfort patients and their families in this time of uncertainty even if there’s little she can do for them medically. 

“A lot of situations we deal with are pretty scary for a lot of patients, and half the battle is just calming them down and making them feel safe, but we really have had to step into a more emotional friendship kind of role,” said Cancemi. “I would say, realistically, medically there isn’t much I can do. My scope of practice is pretty limited, but a lot of times I’m just there to kind of hold their hand on the ride until they get there, which I’m happy to do.”

The guests also reflected on how their time at BC prepared them to work at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We learned a lot about marginalized populations and how we could identify them and … meeting people where they’re at, not where you want them to be at,” said McQuade. “And that’s sort of something that we were always taught in our undergrad nursing education to think about, and now it’s even more important because all of these patients are coming from different backgrounds.”

Adelene Egan, BC ’18, spoke of her experience working as an emergency room nurse in New York City, where many patients facing homelessness or housing insecurity were being discharged from hospitals to self-quarantine with nowhere to go. Egan discussed solutions she and her colleagues came up with to mitigate the problem, such as providing Lyft rides for patients taking public transportation and free hotel stays so patients experiencing homelessness can properly self-quarantine. 

“We had a really big issue there, and I think being someone, you know, educated from a place like BC, where I was really encouraged to look at people for their whole life and situation in person, I was really motivated actually to collaborate with social work and a couple of our other resources at the hospital to figure out what a reasonable solution for these kinds of patients would be,” said Egan. 

The segment concluded with a question-and-answer period in which the hosts asked the guests questions pre-submitted by audience members. 

One question asked the guests how personal protective equipment is being distributed as it grows increasingly limited. Both McQuade and Cancemi said that while they are having to reuse personal protective equipment that would normally be disposable, they feel fortunate to have access to the equipment that they have. 

“I’m far more fortunate than I think a lot of other people who have been internationally, in terms of having access to adequate PPE,” said McQuade. “While there has been shortages, I have always felt very well supported by my institution, even if these practices are reusing the PPE and the textbook is out the window in terms of one-time-only mask use.”

The show concluded with the guests and hosts urging audience members to take care of themselves and continue to make safe choices as the United States begins to reopen.

“There’s something special about the Connell School of Nursing,” said Gareau. “There’s something special about the ways in which we’re teaching all of our students across the schools about entering the health care profession, and you truly embody that, and we’re so grateful for you. As I said in the beginning, I think you embody the common good. And if we could all act more like you, I think the world would be a much better place.”

May 29, 2020