Everyday Heroes of Nurse Week 2021

Hartley Wenger, MS, RN, CCNS, CCRN

Clinical Nurse Specialist, Pediatric Emergency Department @ Inova Fairfax Hospital

“COVID-19 has reminded me of why I love working in the Emergency Department”

Who are your “everyday heroes” in the work place?

Without a doubt, my “everyday heroes” are the staff I work with in the Pediatric Emergency Department. They were my heroes before the pandemic hit but I think the last year has reminded me of how resilient and adaptable ER staff truly are. The staff endured many challenges during the pandemic. When our census dropped significantly last March due to kids being out of school, mandated mask wearing, and people in isolated lockdown, our pediatric staff had to adapt their practice rapidly to help their fellow adult colleagues who were overwhelmed with patients. Providers started seeing adult patients. Nurses and techs were floated to work in adult units across the hospital system. There was very little time to prepare everyone for their new roles. But the staff banded together and learned how to take care of adults even though many of them had never taken care of adult patients in their entire career. The days were long and hard, but the staff simply endured. Despite their discomfort in taking care of a patient population they were unfamiliar with on units that were foreign to them, they didn’t complain. They simply came to work each day and did what was asked of them. That really says a lot about their character. I am proud to work with such a dedicated group of staff who, when faced with adversity, chose to quietly overcome the challenges of learning to care for a new patient population. I think it’s safe to say that this entire experience has reminded me of why I love working in the Emergency Department. I continue to be in awe of what my staff do every day to ensure that their patients, regardless of age, receive the best possible care.


What your most proud accomplishment?

I have so many things that I’m proud of both personally and professionally so it’s difficult to select just one accomplishment. I think personally, I’m proud of my family. I have three wonderful kids at home and a husband who supports me, which allows me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my work family. Professionally, I think my proudest accomplishment is the fact that I was able to work on an adult COVID unit last year even though I am a pediatric nurse by training. Last year, as the number of COVID patients rapidly increased, the hospital had to make some swift and difficult decisions. New units were created in record time and staff were uptrained and deployed to other units. I was one of the nurses deployed to an adult unit. Although I was nervous to be in an unfamiliar unit taking care of patients with comorbidities that I was not used to seeing, I was able to overcome my fears, learn new skills, and provide quality care to my patients. I know that this experience has made me a better, more well-rounded nurse, and I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself.


What is your personal motto?

I’m not sure I have a personal motto, per se, but my favorite quote is, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” I really love this quote and I think we should all aspire to live by this. Life is filled with challenges, many of which are out of our control. Some are small obstacles that we can easily adapt to and others are larger and might seem impossible for us to overcome. Although you may not be able to control when these “storms” occur in your life, you can control how you respond to them. If you change your perspective just a little, regardless of how big these obstacles may seem, you can overcome them. Instead of simply waiting for good things to happen, you must meet these challenges head on. Use them as life lessons or opportunities to learn and grow from. I think this is particularly relevant now considering everything that has happened in the last year. I hope that after the dust settles and my family and I look back at 2020 and the global pandemic, we will be content knowing that we weathered many storms and that we are a stronger, more resilient family because of it all.