People of SU

Nursing Grad Student Establishes COVID-19 Training and Policy Programs

June 22, 2020

Female nurse wearing face mask stands with arms crossed.

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With intensive experience in the health care field, Sarah Welch, ’21, is working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis as a STAT registered nurse, while pursuing a doctorate at Seattle University’s College of Nursing.

Here’s a Q&A with Welch, who reflects on both her professional role during the global pandemic and also how Seattle U factors into the progression of her career path.

Q: What is your current area of practice/employment?

Currently, I am working at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest (UWMC-NW) as a STAT RN, which is an expert registered nurse trained in critical care or emergency nursing who serves as a hospital-wide resource to support nurses in the care of critically ill patients. We respond to all medical emergencies and provide bedside mentoring for nurses less experienced or trained in the care of critically ill or medically complicated patients. 

Q: What is your role in implementing the educational program to support COVID-19 response efforts?  

I collaborated with the education department at UWMC-NW in the creation and implementation of a training program for outpatient clinic, surgical and pre-op nurses to be able to support acute care nurses in the event of surge in COVID-19 [cases]. Many of these RNs had never worked in the acute care environment, or it had been many years. The goal of this program was to train these RNs for a role we created, referred to as an RN Extender. In the RN extender role, the nurses would provide support to the acute care nurses if there was a need to increase the nurse-to-patient ratio. In the setting of crisis and surge, we were anticipating a ratio of over 1:7. 

We created a full-day didactic and hands-on training. We also organized and supported RNs through on-unit training with the acute care RNs, ensuring they had exposure to the various patient populations they would be expected to care for. In a period of three weeks, we created the training, completed three didactic days, and trained more than 40 non-acute RNs to serve in the RN Extender role. 

With social distancing efforts, the expected surge and scarcity of resources never happened, and these RNs did not need to be deployed in this capacity. However, I felt really good about the work my team accomplished. We evaluated our efforts and made recommendations for moving forward in the event that we should need to ramp up again in a future crisis.

Q: You’re also involved in developing policies and procedures at UWMC-NW. Would you elaborate on your role in that process?

The COVID-19 crisis has created unprecedented challenges to the entire health care system. Policies and protocols needed to be developed quickly in order for safe and evidence-based care to be provided to our patients, while simultaneously protecting our frontline health care workers from infection.  

This formidable task required an all-hands-on-deck approach. I provided input and was engaged in many discussions that lead to the creation of COVID-19-specific patient care and personal protective equipment (PPE) policies.

Synthesizing evidence from the World Health Organization and the CDC, I also independently created a policy for the “After-Death Care for the COVID-19 Patient.”  After completing a trial run and revising, this policy was implemented for the organization and is still active.

Q: Where are you from? What brought you to Seattle U?

I’m from Massachusetts and moved to Seattle in 2000 after completing my undergraduate degree. I chose Seattle University because I was drawn to its Jesuit mission and tradition to educate each student as a whole—as well as its high academic standards. I also loved the idea of spending time on an urban campus in Capitol Hill.

Additionally, I knew graduates from the College of Nursing (CON) are highly regarded. In my career, I have worked with many Seattle U CON graduates and found them to be well-prepared, hardworking, compassionate and professional nurses who spoke highly of their education and training. 

Q: What drew you to your current program area at Seattle U?

I’m enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) program. When I applied to this program, I had been practicing as an RN for almost 15 years. Having always worked in the acute care setting and with critically ill patients, I believe that the transition to the AG-ACNP role is a logical progression in my professional and personal development.

I was drawn to the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner track because I wanted to grow my knowledge in this field.  My goal is to work as an independent practitioner in the critical care environment and have a seat at the table where important policy decisions are made so I can champion best practices. I want to learn the important skills of being able to translate nursing and organizational leadership research into practice.

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