As part of the National Disaster Medical System response to the COVID-19 pandemic, two members of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital—Ellen Blanch, RN, and Mike Storey, CRNA, DNP—were deployed to Louisiana to assist a hospital in need.
Nancy Wyman, RN, is a cardiac nurse who has spent the last 48 years caring for people in need—25 years of which were dedicated to the patients of Massachusetts General Hospital. After joining the Mass General team in 1995 as a nurse in the newly formed obstetrics unit, Nancy quickly became involved in many initiatives at the hospital, including the trauma critical care team. Throughout her career, Nancy was deployed along with her team to various global emergencies in order to attend to those in need and augment local resources.
In this spotlight, Nancy shares what she believes is special about Mass General, her advice for those with similar career aspirations and her experience being deployed during COVID-19.
Q. What brought you to Mass General?
It was honestly coincidental. I had seen an advertisement that the hospital was opening a new obstetrics unit and that kind of work truly intrigued me. So, I applied, and I got the job on the spot! And then I stayed for 25 years.
I would never change that decision. Mass General is just a wonderful place to work and truly embodies the spirit of teamwork—it is a family, and everybody supports each other. I also have always felt like we at Mass General have the power to make a difference and evoke change for the better of the patients.
Q. You have been deployed to other locations many times throughout your career. What is that experience like?
When I came to Mass General, there was talk of creating a trauma critical care team. The initiative was being led by Susan Briggs, MD, MPH, FACS, and Edward George, MD, PhD. They encouraged me to investigate joining the team, and so I did. This was in 1995. My first time being deployed was very soon after I joined. I have been deployed many times since then.
Truly, I did not know what I was getting myself into at the time, but it has been an incredible experience. You meet people from all over the country and all different walks of life.
Q. What were your deployments like during COVID-19?
The first time I was deployed for COVID-19 was in March 2020. I flew out with the aeromedical team to help COVID-positive people coming off the cruise ships that were in China when the virus broke. I was gone for three weeks and when I returned to Mass General, the first COVID-19 surge was well underway.
Following that, I was deployed to Louisiana for two weeks and I worked nights in the intensive care unit (ICU) there. That one was very tough, as the hospital had no help and minimal resources. They essentially improvised a hospital ICU to accommodate an overflow of patients. They did the best they could with what they had, but they needed all the help they could get. COVID-19 deployment was difficult because many people who were deployed to help would end up getting COVID-19 themselves. Now, I am home and healthy, and I thank my lucky stars for that.
Q. What is the day-to-day during deployment?
It is very different than being at home. All the people, the equipment, the environment is different. Very often, we work 12-hour shifts and overnight. These past experiences have been particularly heartbreaking because the patients are so sick, and their families are not able to be there. One day, your patients are fine; the next, they have taken a turn for the worst.
During deployment, you live in a hotel and the days are a grind. You only have time to work, sleep and shower. There is no socializing or free time.
The motivation I feel for taking care of the patients has been everything. It is my way of giving back. I want to make a difference in people's lives.
Q. You work quite a bit with the residents and are involved in their training. What do you enjoy most about this part of your role?
They are all extremely self-motivated, caring and smart. I can always see how much they want to do a good job and take good care of the patients. And to me, that is what it is all about. It is a joy working with a group of individuals who are always eager to learn.
As a mentor, I believe every person should be treated as an individual. Some people struggle with different things. The key is to have patience with them and to want to teach them.
Q. What advice would you give to someone with similar career aspirations?
Work hard and be nice. In this line of work, you must be kind to people and be flexible. You should always keep the door open and find joy in learning different things.
Q. Congratulations on your retirement! As you reflect on your career, is there anything you would change?
I have had a wonderful nursing career. I have done emergency room ICU, labor and delivery, special care nursery, neuro and more. I feel like I have done it all! I am very grateful.
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The Anesthesia Team
The Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine's faculty comprises of specialists from a variety of services in Massachusetts General Hospital's operating rooms, obstetric suites, pain centers, and surgical and heart center intensive care units.