Science instructor Kathy McCain was watching ABC Evening News in late August when a piece came on about a team of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses caring for 19 critical infants as Hurricane Laura barreled down on them at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women in Louisiana. The story highlighted the heroic work of NICU Nursing Director Leah Upton and her team, which faced down the Category 4 hurricane to protect and care for their fragile patients.
McCain could have relayed the news story to students in her Biomedical-Technology class, but she knew it would not truly resonate from her second-hand telling. Instead, she reached out to Upton and asked if she would share her experience directly with the students. McCain was thrilled when Upton agreed.
In mid-September Upton told students how her team of nurses worked throughout the worst of the hurricane, without running water or air conditioning, to keep the newborns alive — even after the rest of the hospital had been evacuated. Their most fragile patients had breathing tubes and were on respirators and ventilators.
“Babies that vulnerable cannot thermo-regulate,” she told the class. “They have no brown fat to keep them warm, so we had to secure their bodies in Ziploc bags to help regulate their temperature.
“Beyond all our medical skills, the close teamwork needed by the nurses that day is what helped save lives,” Upton added.
McCain nodded in recognition. To date, five nursing specialists have spoken with McCain’s Biomedical-Technology students this fall as they studied infectious diseases and immunology. “The one common theme among all of them has been solid communication,” she noted.
“I decided to ask a plethora of nurses with different specialties to share with students how nursing has changed and to discuss the flexibility needed for the job,” McCain said. In addition to Upton, her students have spoken with Kimberly Lewis, director of clinical effectiveness; Tara Conley, gastroenterology specialist; and LaDrena January and Susan Russo, both pediatric infectious diseases experts. Each has provided an array of real-world cases and offered keen insights into the problem-solving skills needed in the profession.
“Each of these professionals has brought their passion to my classroom,” McCain said. “Their professionalism is forefront in solving medical cases. Learning how they can provide a stronger, safer experience for the next patient has its basis in the scientific method. Each one explained how new protocols are put in place so that mistakes are not made the next time and how hospitals work each day to adjust to new breakthroughs and procedures. Their discussions have been current and relatable.”
McCain noted that her students have been fully engaged each time one of the nurses has addressed the class. “They cannot stop asking questions,” she said of the students. “Having medical professionals with boots-on-the-ground explaining to the students what challenges they face has been invaluable.”