Nurses on the Front Lines
By Donald Gilpin | Photography by Weronika Plohn
“America’s nurses are the beating heart of our medical system.”
In a job that’s never been easy, nurses found themselves in March 2020 at the epicenter of a deadly pandemic, on the front lines in battling a mysterious new virus, COVID-19.
For nurses, altruism and hard work are a way of life, every single day. Princeton Magazine asked several area nurses in different fields in a variety of settings and facilities around the area to share thoughts about themselves and how they have stayed positive in facing the challenges of their profession, especially during the pandemic.
Caring, helping, teamwork, persevering, and touching people’s lives were themes that recurred over and over.
Ashley Ferrante, RN
The Pediatric Group
Ashley Ferrante has worked as a registered nurse at The Pediatric Group for 12 years. She is currently back in school to further her education and she plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2023.
“I adore working with kids,” says Ferrante. “It is rewarding to provide them with medical care and watch them grow from birth to adolescence.
“Juggling family, school, work, and dealing with the anxiety of COVID can be highly stressful. I stay positive by spending my free time with family and friends. Devoting time to my garden and hiking in the woods with my fiancé and six rescue dogs are some of my favorite ways to relieve stress.”
Diane Brock, Certified
Certified Medical Assistant
The Pediatric Group
Diane Brock grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with her two daughters and their dog. She has worked at The Pediatric Group in Princeton since 2017 and is currently also a nursing student at Bucks County Community College.
“The last year has definitely been full of changes, making life in health care more stressful,” says Brock. “When I think I’ve reached my limit, I try to remember my purpose. I try to remember why I wanted to become a nurse in the first place. That reason is because I love helping others and I am so grateful I am able to do it every day.
“Having the support of my co-workers at The Pediatric Group has played such an important role in being able to go back to school. They have helped me grow as a health care professional and I plan to continue my journey with them.”
Unit Manager Keisha Pinkney, left, with Clinical Dietitian Rupa Lakshmikanthan.
Keisha Pinkney, Unit Manager
Keisha Pinkney has been a nurse for 15 years, and 10 1/2 of those years have been spent at Morris Hall as the unit manager of SJ first floor.
“During those years I have worked very hard in whatever capacity necessary to ensure that Morris Hall feels like home to the people who live here,” says Pinkney. “It is very important to me that each of them feels important here and that their needs are met with kindness and compassion.
Working with the same group of staff and residents for all those years created a bond that during COVID made us stronger. That bond and familiarity motivated us during COVID when there was a general feeling of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
“When COVID touched our building, after our initial ‘oh no!’ we got busy and approached each person for who they were and went from there. It was that personal relationship with each of them that motivated me through the darkest days of COVID. For those who responded well to the treatment plan, we are still loving those guys up today, and for those who succumbed to COVID we loved them all the way through their journey. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough. I mean it was really hard a lot of days, but we are still here!”
Barbara Blair, RN, DON
Barbara Blair is a registered nurse and the director of nursing at Morris Hall Senior Care Communities in Lawrenceville. Her nursing practice started as a second career and as an older adult after a prior career outside of health care.
“I chose nursing because I wanted to be able to raise my family and live comfortably while also making a difference in people’s lives,” says Blair. “I had a family member who was a nurse who continually progressed in her nursing education. I admired her accomplishments and I have always too had a deep desire to learn and grow.
“Staying positive in these challenging health care times can be quite difficult for nurses. I find it important to find time for self-care, family time, and friendships. Making time to relax and get away from the busy, hectic work schedule is critical to de-stress and rejuvenate, allowing me to give 110 percent in my nursing practice when I return. Planning ahead and calendar use is helpful to schedule leisure time away and I also look forward to those times and events.”
Greg Powers, RN,
Cardiac Step-Down Unit
St. Francis Medical Center
“So many have asked me, ‘How long have you wanted to be a nurse?’ says Powers. “The answer often surprises them. My journey into nursing was a personal challenge to tackle something difficult as I approached 60 years old. After spending eight years as an advanced life-support paramedic, I embarked on a 20-year career in the construction industry as a masonry contractor. There was a growing desire in my heart to live my life not just for myself, but to somehow be able to give back to others.
“So began my altruistic journey. I knew nursing was one of the hardest curriculums in college. I was a bit nervous at first. What if I began and was not able to finish? Would I have the stamina? Graduating from Mercer County Community College’s Nursing Program, for me, was equivalent to scaling the highest mountain. The endurance and dedication required was almost indescribable. With the help of my professors, I was able to graduate and pass my NCLEX exam. A week after I passed my nursing boards, I turned 60. Remember this story, it’s never too late!
“Staying positive during these trying times being a nurse boils down to one thing. Nursing is not about me. Nursing is about caring for patients who need help. Families who need support during trying times. Nursing is about advocating for those in need. The sacrifice we make as nurses is a personal choice. As Florence Nightingale once said, ‘Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift — there is nothing small about it.’”
Bridget (Molly) Velez, RN
Princeton House Behavioral Health,
Penn Medicine Princeton Health
Molly Velez has worked at Princeton House Behavioral Health as an RN for the last 10 years. She was born and raised at the Jersey Shore and currently resides in the Princeton area. She received her BSN from Radford University, Radford, Virginia, in 2010. In her spare time she enjoys spending time shopping and gardening and being with her family, friends, and her dog Charlie.
“It has been a rough year and a half for everyone, especially essential and health care workers,” says Velez. “Now more than ever, we rely on each other and our teamwork to keep us going. I think what has really helped us through these difficult times is our ability to keep things light-hearted, not only for us, but for our patients. Smiling, laughing, and looking on the bright side.”
Elise Carasio, RN, BSN-BC
Medical Surgery Oncology
Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell
Elise Carasio has been a registered nurse at Capital Health for four years. Prior to her seven years of nursing experience, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Ramapo College as well as her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Kean University. She then worked in outpatient primary care, where she practiced everything from pediatric to geriatric care, before making her home at Capital Health where she works on the medical surgery oncology floor (6M) as a chemo certified nurse.
“Though I worked with infectious diseases in the past, the outbreak of COVID-19 proved to be quite the challenge,’ says Carasio. “The numbers were overwhelming, and the hours were long, but through sheer determination, and with the help of my coworkers, we persevered and did whatever we could to help our patients.
“I attribute my positive attitude in the face of this pandemic to the team of doctors, nurses, and techs who kept each other going, despite hardship, to put their patients first and provide the care that they needed.”
Jennifer Mahony, RN
Assistant Nurse Manager, Neuroscience
Capital Health Regional Medical Center
Jennifer Mahony has been a registered nurse at Capital Health for almost 13 years in various roles. After graduating with her associate degree in nursing from Mercer County Community College, she worked on the Oncology/Urology Unit and Critical Care Unit at a local community hospital before joining Capital Health when its Capital Institute for Neurosciences opened its Neuro Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in 2008. After spending two years in the float pool, Mahony settled back into the Neuro ICU and transitioned to the role of assistant nurse manager in 2016. She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at The College of New Jersey.
“When our overflow unit became the initial COVID-19 floor at Capital Health, the nursing staff was frightened,” says Mahony. “The management and our clinical nurse specialist tried to constantly be on the floor with the nurses to educate them on the new guidelines and policies that were changing every day. Communication and support were what I focused on for the nursing staff initially to try to allay some fears.
“As the first two months went by, the patients kept pouring in and they were all so sick. It was something like we had never seen before. We were all exhausted, but banded together and worked and worked. We went into work early, went home very late, and came in on our days off. I remember driving home and crying for the nurses and the patients and their families. I would call my father, also a nurse, and tell him about what I was seeing. It seemed unreal to him because living in Tennessee, they were not yet touched by COVID-19.”
“A positive attitude and energy is what I focused on because I believe in the profession of nursing,” she adds. “Nothing I do at work is about me. It is about being positive and being a voice for the patients, families, and the nurses.”
Staff Nurse and Clinical Nurse Specialist, Surgical Care Unit
Penn Medicine Princeton Health
Christina DeValue is a New Jersey native. She attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick and graduated with her Bachelor of Science in nursing in the spring of 2015. Shortly after graduation, she began her nursing career at University Medical Center of Princeton (now Penn Medicine Princeton Health) in the Nurse Residency Program for new graduate registered nurses. Following the residency program, DeValue accepted a position as a staff nurse on the Surgical Care Unit (SCU). Currently, she continues to work on the same unit as both a staff nurse and a clinical nurse specialist. In March 2020, SCU was converted into a COVID unit where she cared for COVID positive patients during the first pandemic surge in New Jersey. She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Walden University for her Master of Science in nursing with a concentration in education.
“Staying positive over the last year and half has not been an easy feat, especially as a direct care nurse working in a hospital,” says DeValue. “When times are particularly stressful, I remind myself that nursing is a work of heart. Having the ability to touch so many people’s lives is truly a blessing and something I am grateful for every day.”