Mary Nguyen, DNP, CRNA // On the Frontline of Healthcare - 6.0
Mary Nguyen, DNP, CRNA knew she needed to be in NYC when the COVID crisis began to develop. As a CRNA, she quickly and effectively manages airways every single day for patients undergoing anesthesia and in need of rescue ventilatory support. When there was a dire need for advanced practice providers to manage airways and assist in caring for COVID patients in the ICU setting, it was clear she needed to be on the frontlines.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background - where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Evansville, Indiana to two incredible parents who emigrated from Vietnam. I was fortunate to have had a loving family and a faith-based upbringing. I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Southern Indiana’s Program of Nursing, worked as a cardiac ICU nurse for three years, and then returned to school to earn my Doctor of Nursing Practice with specialization in Nurse Anesthesia at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.
Was there any specific person or event that motivated you to become an RN? Was a CRNA career always your goal?
I volunteered in nursing homes as a young child and grew a fondness for caring for others while observing the impact of medicine. I knew I wanted to continue being a part of that and nursing gave me the ability to combine both health/medicine and the art of caring. I knew I wanted to be a CRNA after learning of the one-on-one patient to provider relationship, careful attention in truly knowing your patient, and making direct decisions to help improve my patient’s health care experience. After shadowing multiple CRNAs, including a husband and wife CRNA couple, I knew it was the right fit for me.
As anesthesia providers, we are considered the highest risk for contracting the virus given the nature of the job. Surely, the virus would have come to you and your primary place of employment if you stayed in Indiana. Why did you make the choice to head to NY, the hardest hit area of the country, to work during this time?
As crazy as this sounds, I had two full bags packed before I even had a concrete agreement to work in New York. I had scrubs, hats, shoes, cleaning supplies, masks, bags to carry my phone in — and even extras to share! I knew I needed to be in NYC and my sole focus was finding a way to go work on the frontlines. As a CRNA, I quickly and effectively manage airways every single day for my patients undergoing anesthesia for their surgery, so when the call came for providers to manage emergent COVID airways, it was a no-brainer that I needed to be there. I also had a sense of responsibility and duty: I am young, healthy, and I don’t have a husband or children. For me, it made practical sense to be amongst those helping care for COVID patients.
One awesome thing that I've noticed is the incredible amount of teamwork around the hospital. Communication amongst departments (RTs, ICU RNs, intensivists, POHA/PACU, etc.) has been an integral part of the process when caring for COVID patients. Have you had any positive experiences that you'd like to touch on while providing care during the crisis? This could be broad or even patient specific!
I remember my first code with a COVID airway. I was only a few hours into my first day. The nurse, Francisca, did an incredible job at alerting the team, providing patient information, and coordinating our needs for equipment, supplies, etc. The nurse director, Pam, appeared within maybe a minute with the emergency supplies cart. Of course, the rest of the team had also come and was very efficient at COVID emergencies. I was so impressed. As I stood at the head of the bed, managing the patient’s airway, I turned to Francisca who was right by my side, and told her, “Tell him that we are going to do everything we can to make sure he’s okay.” Our patient was entirely Spanish speaking, and she was a bilingual nurse. She added more in, but I couldn’t fully make it out and I saw her squeeze his hand. We were all able to quickly and safely intubate the patient and manage him better in the ICU. The NYC Bellevue staff had been through so much even by the time I had gotten there, including the loss of their own fellow staff members. But they inspired me every day. In fact, I looked forward to coming to work in part because of them. 17 West staff at Bellevue are my heroes.
How has your experience in NY changed your practice? What are you bringing (or have you brought) back home with you?
What I’ve learned is that when something scary presents itself, I will not withdraw or run the other way. If I’m scared due to insufficient knowledge, I will educate myself; I will prepare myself the best I can, and I’ll handle it.
What does it mean to you to be fueled by choice?
My faith plays a central role in my decision making and motivations. Being fueled by choice means being fueled with the desire to do good and what is right, even when it is the less popular choice or requires more work. It is making the choice to allow myself to be open to the Lord and let Him guide and lead me in my ways.
What mantra do you want the world to remember you by?
When I worked in the cardiac ICU, some senior nurses would tell me that I was “too soft” because they thought I was too nice. I would tell them that I could do just as good of a job, and I didn’t have to be a (mean person) about it. If I could tell the entire world something, it would be that you can be fiercely strong, successful, but also incredibly kind. It feels better, and it really does work.