Alexandra Durbin’s goal is to pursue a career in nursing leadership that allows her to support both patients and her fellow care providers.

When an opportunity to be part of Regional One Health’s COVID-19 Unit came up, she embraced it as chance to have a positive impact during a challenging time.

Three months later, she’s grateful for the opportunities she has had to learn and grow…and to simply hold the hand of a patient in need and tell them she’ll take care of them.

Regional One Health Charge Nurse Alexandra Durbin, RN was enjoying a day off when she got a text from her manager.

The hospital was establishing its COVID-19 Unit, and he needed volunteers to step into the unknown and care for patients diagnosed with the highly contagious, frightening virus. He asked Durbin to serve as patient care coordinator.

Her response? “I texted him back and asked, ‘Can I come up there now?’ she laughed. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I wanted to be part of it.”

Caring for COVID-19 patients might seem daunting, but for Durbin, it validated her decision to become a nurse. “I got emotional,” she recalls. “I knew this was my purpose; my call to service.”

Durbin hadn’t considered nursing until a conversation with her now-husband while she was in college. Even during nursing school, she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision.

Alexandra Durbin, RN sees serving on the COVID-19 Unit as a chance to give back to the community where she grew up. “I knew this was my purpose; my call to service,” she said.

“He told me, ‘You love people. It would be a great career path for you,” she said. “It took me a couple years to decide to pursue it, and even throughout school I was apprehensive. But it really clicked when I started with Regional One Health. I got to know the patients and shadowed some amazing nurses. It really resonated with me.”

That was two years ago, and Durbin quickly became a respected member of the medical-surgery nursing team. Looking to the future, she wanted to honor her mother, who died three years ago, by following a career path that let her support and empower others.

“I love patient care, but I knew I wanted to go into management,” she said. “I love dealing with the community of nurses – building people up, working on morale. We go through some things that are very difficult, so building up the nurses is really important to me.”

Then came the pandemic – but instead of feeling afraid, Durbin saw a chance to learn, grow and help patients and colleagues during a challenging time.

“As nurses, we’re used to dealing with viruses, and I trust my organization will give me what I need to stay safe,” she said. “I knew it was a way to serve my community, and I was eager to take the opportunity as a blessing. If we’re not going to do this, who is?”

The COVID-19 team, which Durbin praised as an incredible group of medical professionals, had plenty of challenges to overcome, starting with learning to treat a novel virus. Durbin credited Amber Thacker, MD, who leads the COVID-19 Unit, with keeping everyone up-to-date: “She’s one of the most brilliant doctors I’ve ever worked with. She teaches us daily,” she said.

Nurses had to adjust to making fewer trips into patients’ rooms even while being asked to do more. “We’ve adapted to a new way of nursing,” Durbin said. “When you go into a patient’s room, you make sure you have everything you need. We take their food trays in, do lab work, give medications. It’s synchronized around meals as much as possible.”

They’re also finding ways to comfort patients who are scared and alone, their only company doctors and nurses whose bodies and faces are totally covered by personal protective equipment.

Durbin knew treating COVID-19 patients would require personal sacrifices, but she was willing to make them to help people in need. She and her husband haven’t seen family and friends for months, and delayed their own plans to start a family.

“It pulls at my heartstrings. They can’t have loved ones sit beside them,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I’m a person under here.’ I hold their hand and tell them we see people recover and go out those doors every day. I tell them we’ll take care of them and this is just another step in their journey.”

Her empathy is borne of the knowledge that nurses themselves face risks. While Durbin accepts that, it hasn’t come without personal sacrifices: she and her husband haven’t seen friends and family for months, and they even delayed their own plans to start a family.

But Durbin doesn’t dwell on the negative, instead focusing on her gratitude for her husband’s support: “Even though he works long hours, every day I come home and he’s cooking dinner, he’s done all the housework,” she said. “He is amazing.”

It lets her extend the same grace to others and has intensified her desire to improve health care in her hometown. Durbin plans to earn her master’s degree and continue pursuing leadership roles that let her support patients and colleagues.

“You never know who’s going to come through our doors, and if I can enhance the care they receive, I want that opportunity,” she said. “Caring for patients is always the end goal, and to provide that care, you need to make sure your nurses have the resources they need. As a nursing leader, I can help train nurses and have an even bigger role in the safety and care of patients.”

Her experience on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19 has affirmed that Regional One Health is the perfect place to do so. “I love it here. I love the mission of Regional One Health,” she said.

“They hire heroes. The people I work with are willing to take risks and go above and beyond to take care of people in need. If we have a challenge put in front of us, we don’t back down – instead, we say, ‘This is how we’re going to make it better.’”

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