As the world combats COVID-19, the important role of nurses is starkly apparent through their heroic efforts on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The dedication of Bethany Jenkins, who works as the COVID-19 Unit charge nurse at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South L.A., reveals why people in her profession are so endeared.
In fact, the accolades are especially appropriate as the U.S. celebrates National Nurses Week from May 6 to May 12. The observance, which began in 1954, recognizes the contributions that nurses and nursing make to the community.
For Jenkins, nursing is easy because, as she expressed, “It is doing something that I am passionate about, which is caring for other people and it’s been more than rewarding. I love it! I feel like this is what God has put me here to do.”
While interacting regularly with COVID-19 patients can be daunting for some, she said that she succeeds and stays safe by employing the guidelines recommended by health practitioners.
“You constantly tell yourself to be mindful of washing your hands and how you put on and take off personal protective equipment like gloves and gowns,” explained Jenkins. “Basically, you really have to be mindful that you’re doing everything properly because you are putting yourself at risk being on the floor and going into people’s rooms.”
Her patients, who range from young adults to senior citizens, are designated as PUIs – people under investigation that have been tested for COVID-19, but have received their results back. “If they’re stable, they come to our unit. But, if they’re unstable, they go to ICU (intensive care unit),” said Jenkins.
Working with such a broad demographic has helped her realize that the disease knows no boundaries, added Jenkins, who noted, “It affects people of all ages, not just the elderly. Also, you can’t compare COVID-19 to the flu. They are two different viruses with two different effects as far as we can see. The coronavirus has killed many people and I have not heard of the flu killing this many people. It (COVID-19) needs to be taken seriously.”
In her opinion, that serious approach includes adhering to the government and health guidelines for hand washing, social distancing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and using hand sanitizer after touching things when you are out in the community. She also advised the public to use caution when wearing gloves because the practice can lead to cross-contamination unless the gloves are changed after each time something is touched.
Jenkins’ extensive knowledge about nursing first started with her mother, who is also a nurse, along with Jenkins’ nearly 15 years of experience. While in school, she worked as a nursing assistant at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood. Upon completing her education, she served 12 years as a nurse at Marina del Rey Hospital (now Cedars-Sinai in Marina del Rey Hospital).
She moved to MLK Hospital when it opened as well as enrolled in school to complete her Master’s degree in nursing education. Her goal is to become a teacher and hopefully inspire others to work in the field.
“There’s always a need for nurses, especially now with so many baby boomers retiring. So, I want to teach the clinical, hands-on aspect and bring more nursing students to the hospitals,” said Jenkins.
In the meantime, she continues to enjoy her current job and admitted that the public’s support of nurses and health workers has been uplifting during the pandemic.
“There’s such an outpouring of appreciation now. We see little signs posted around the hospital grounds saying ‘thank you for what you do’ and ‘you are heroes.’ I think it’s important because nurses don’t get enough recognition and being a nurse can be stressful at times. It can be mentally and physically draining,” said Jenkins.
“So, it’s nice to have Nurses Week to highlight what nurses do. It’s also so nice that the community shows appreciation. It’s really makes us feel good!”