UT nursing instructor volunteers to fight COVID-19 in New York

Carlie Whisman

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Clinical nursing instructor Darlene Wilson’s decision to volunteer as a front-line health worker in New York City was a no-brainer. A West Point Military Academy graduate, Army veteran and former ER nurse, Wilson said she knew going to New York to treat COVID-19 patients was something she had to do. 

“I have the skill set to help,” Wilson said. “It was important for me to figure out how I can get (to New York) and help others.” 

After reaching out to a health worker recruitment agency, Wilson was assigned to work at Elmhurst Hospital in Manhattan, New York, an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to working 36 hour shifts taking care of COVID-19 patients, Wilson is still conducting her nursing classes remotely over Zoom. 

Wilson said she’s able to offer her students a firsthand perspective of what it’s like taking care of patients at ground zero. 

Adapting her teaching to incorporate dilemmas health care workers are currently facing, Wilson is now encouraging her students to brainstorm solutions and think critically about situations they wouldn’t normally see in a hospital. 

Wilson explains real-life scenarios she’s encountering as a COVID-19 nurse and asks her clinical students things like, “How do you make something work when things are not perfect?” 

“We talk about things that we wouldn't necessarily know (about) the situation (without her perspective) and the correct way to go about it,” said nursing senior Morgan Mahler, one of Wilson’s students.

Besides teaching remotely, Wilson said she has shifted her teaching to prepare her senior students to enter the medical field during a pandemic. She said she’s done this by sharing what clinical skills are necessary, as well as a thorough explanation of the equipment which will be available to them.

Wilson said she hopes to be a source of hope for her students during this time of uncertainty. 

“I tell them that I feel safe and sometimes hearing that your instructor feels safe can allay their fears as well,” Wilson said. 

Despite the novelty of the current outbreak, Wilson said she has been prepping her students for critical situations like COVID-19 for multiple semesters. 

“As a nurse, you're expected to do what is most safe for your patients and for yourself, and that's what we're taught from the beginning,” Mahler said. “I feel that we're completely equipped to keep ourselves and our patients safe because of all the skills and protective measures we've been taught by Ms. Wilson.”

Nursing senior Paige Reed said although Wilson isn’t her professor anymore, the skills and patience Wilson has taught her in past semesters have eased her anxiety about nursing during a pandemic. 

“The confidence she instilled in me coupled with the skills I learned from her is a gift I will carry forward in my career,” Reed said. “I will most definitely be a better nurse during this pandemic because of her. Being a front-line worker in New York City is exactly where I would expect Ms. Wilson right now.”