Zachary Shealy, a 2018 graduate of SAU’s nursing program, applied his skills to the front lines of the pandemic at a hospital in Mineola, N.Y.
The Texarkana, Texas, native began working at NYU Winthrop Hospital on April 12, gaining valuable experience as a traveling nurse and doing what he loves: helping patients.
“I enjoy taking care of people,” Shealy said from Mineola, about 30 miles from New York City. “It’s what I’ve always loved to do.”
He was working as an Intensive Care Unit nurse at UT Health in Tyler, Texas, when the country went into lockdown. He saw an opportunity to help patients, relieve overwhelmed nurses, and obtain the experience necessary to eventually fulfill his goal of becoming a full-time traveling nurse.
After receiving offers to come to work in hospitals in the New York City area, he signed an eight-week contract with NYU Winthrop, a 591-bed facility.
Responding to a worldwide pandemic was not how Shealy envisioned starting his career. “I never imagined I would see a pandemic in my lifetime,” he said. “I’m happy to be blessed with the knowledge and skills to be able to do this. Though, it is difficult for me to see everything I see here.”
Shealy enjoyed his educational experience at SAU, having chosen its nursing program due to its affordability and close proximity to his hometown. He had his sights set on nursing since high school.
At NYU Winthrop, Shealy works five 12-hour shifts per week, self-isolating as much as possible in his hotel. Though he misses social interactions, he still tries to make patients and their families feel better. “I am a hugger, and anyone having a bad day or not feeling well gets one. I miss giving and getting hugs, so that’s been rough,” he said.
He has seen patients who have died of coronavirus and those who have recovered. “You never know how the virus will affect someone,” he said. “People who had it thought that they had something else; some healthy people did not survive. A lot depends on how much fight the patient is able to give.”
Healthcare workers doing the best they can in an unprecedented situation have a lot to endure. “It’s taxing to see so much death,” Shealy said. “For nurses it can be especially hard because they don’t want to bring the virus home to their families, so they spend a lot of time alone. That makes it harder.”
Social distancing guidelines seemed to have a positive effect on the number of new cases Shealy saw coming into his hospital.
“I think it’s made a difference, but I think people will pay less attention as things reopen,” he said.
“I take as much time for myself as I can,” Shealy said. “Today I went for a run. I stay away from people as much as I can, but sometimes that isn’t completely possible.”
After completing his work in New York, Shealy planned to pursue a career as a traveling nurse. “I want to continue helping my fellow healthcare workers as well as patients as much as I can,” he said.