Right place, wrong job

Debbie Daniels’ journey from accounts payable to critical care nurse on the front lines of COVID-19

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Debbie Daniels has been part of Novant Health since she was 16 years old.

She started in accounts payable. Her mom worked in that department and helped get Daniels a part-time job that she kept through high school and as she went off to college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In turns out, Daniels was in the right place but the wrong job.

By the time Daniels finished her freshman year of college, she was a certified nursing assistant. She got her bachelor’s degree in nursing and her master’s in nursing administration. And while she’s still at Novant Health more than two decades later, her role looks very different than when she started. Now, she’s a critical care nurse manager at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

“I have a natural ability to take care of people,” said Daniels, who has spent 16 years working in the ICU. “As a leader, I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for the bedside, to make sure that nurses have a voice. I keep what’s important to them at the forefront of all the decisions that are being made.”

That’s never been more important than now, when critical care nurses are on the front lines of a global pandemic.

“It’s definitely been stressful. My team has experienced a lot of fear and anxiety. They’ve experienced a lot of joy. We’ve seen a lot of people get better, even people we didn’t think would get better,” Daniels said. “We’ve also experienced a lot of sadness. We’ve seen several deaths, and my team has worked through being there for the patients and for the families.”

In this new normal, Daniels has built her days around serving her team. She starts by meeting with her assistant nurse manager and her team lead, who collectively review staffing and the status of all current patients, as well as anything they know might be coming. Then, she rounds on the patients, but also on her team, checking in to see how everyone is holding up on any given day.

Patient care has always been the priority in the ICU, but with COVID-19 and a strict limitation on visitors, patient support now comes in a close second, Daniels said. One recent day, a nurse spent 45 minutes in the room with a patient, doing FaceTime calls with family and friends. Another nurse donated her own iPad to the ICU because she understood how important a video call can be for both patients and their families.

“We are taking the place of being there for the family, letting them know who is here with them so they know the patient is not alone,” she said.

While Daniels celebrates all the work being done inside the walls of the ICU, she won’t take credit for it. For her, it’s all about her team.

“I couldn’t have made it through this if it wasn’t for my team,” she said. “We’ve come together to work for the betterment of the entire situation. We’ve made our surge plans in case we get overwhelmed with patients. We’ve been training people from other departments. Seeing that has really been exciting because sometimes we get in our silos and we don’t understand each other’s work environment. I think this has given everyone a different perspective.”

That includes Daniels. She has come to realize that this experience will only benefit her as she continues to grow as a leader.

“If you can handle this, you can handle anything,” she said.

These days, Daniels can feel that daily life is once again different. The anxiety and stress have decreased as her team has fallen into the new habits of a new normal. She now wears a mask all the time, even when she’s not in front of patients. But one thing hasn’t changed. Even though the pandemic has brought challenges unlike any she’s ever experienced, she loves what she does.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than critical care nursing. I love it that much,” she said.

You can help support nurses like Debbie Daniels with a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund.

Contributions to the fund provide front-line healthcare workers with the resources they need now so they can focus on the critical work of helping people and saving lives.

They’re giving everything they have to help us through an unprecedented time. Now, they need our help.

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