Nurse practitioners step into new role in Emergency Department

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At the end of March, the Emergency Department (ED) at the IWK divided into two spaces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One space is devoted to caring for infectious patients and the other for non-infectious patients. With this setup, the health centre is well-prepared to safely respond to potential COVID-19 cases that might come into the ED. But to support providing care in two spaces instead of one, more resources were needed.

Gina O’Leary and Tricia Lane, both nurse practitioners, answered the call for help. Although O’Leary works in cardiology and Lane works in orthopedics, they were quick to respond and bring their expertise to the ED team, despite some initial apprehension.

“I think apprehension is a good emotion to describe what we felt at first. For everyone being reassigned, we have to step outside of our comfort zones,” says Lane. “I’ve been a nurse practitioner for almost 20 years and have been in orthopedics for 10 so this is a big adjustment. But I am happy to be here and to be helping.”

O’Leary agrees, adding “I think apprehensive is the best description because I wasn’t terrified or upset. It was more of a positive emotion of ‘ok, I hope I can do a great job and I’m really pleased to have been asked.’”

In their role as nurse practitioners, O’Leary and Lane have the scope to diagnose, prescribe, and order and interpret tests. This allows them to see patients and move them efficiently through the system and support the overall capacity of the two Emergency Departments.

“Everyone wants to get patients in and out, including the patients, and that’s what we’re doing. I feel like we’re demonstrating our competence as nurse practitioners to our colleagues, both nurses and physicians, and I am proud of that.” says Lane.

“At first, I went down there thinking ‘oh my gosh, there are diagnoses x-y-z that I’m not going to be familiar with,’” says O’Leary. “But I realized after I’d been there a couple of shifts that I overlooked how, after 20 years of working in pediatrics, there is so much I can do for a patient and a family. We’re trained to act as the most responsible provider and that’s a skill we can use in the ED.”

Having nurse practitioners present in the ED is a change at the IWK. But it’s just one of many changes impacting the practice of nursing, and health care, right now. Although most times it is out of necessity, both O’Leary and Lane feel there are positive takeaways from all of the change taking place.

“I am seeing every challenge as a learning experience right now,” says Lane. “There are so many positives to what we’re doing and so many things are being streamlined that we can learn from.”

O’Leary adds “When life gives you lemons, sometimes you make lemonade and that’s what I’m hoping happens here. In the past we’ve looked at ‘why can’t we make this happen?’ but now I think we’re operating from a perspective of ‘how can we make this happen?’ and I think that’s a better attitude.”

May 11-17 is Nursing Week in Canada.

Photos by Scott Thieu.