Alumna Spotlight: During COVID-19 Response, GU Alumna Leads as MedStar Georgetown CNO

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April 7, 2020 – Nursing alumna Eileen Brennan Ferrell (NHS’75, G’83) is the chief nursing officer of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, a position she has held for nearly eight years. 

Eileen Brennan Ferrell (NHS’75, G’83) is the chief nursing officer of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where she is also a senior vice president.

Her leadership role at the Magnet® hospital is always a busy one. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s 24/7 with unit rounding seven days each week and regular contact with her own nursing team and the hospital’s administrative team.

But the spotlight, she says, belongs on the nurses. “They’re completely amazing,” Ferrell said. “I really and truly have the easy job. It’s the front-line nurses who have the challenging and difficult jobs – every day, but, now, even more so.”

‘So Proud of Them’

“The nurses don’t have the luxury to stay at home and socially distance,” Ferrell said. “They want to go to work. They think it is a privilege and a duty to take care of our patients. They’re volunteering to work extra shifts. I am so proud of them. I could cry right now.” 

As part of its COVID-19 preparation, the hospital has redeployed and oriented nurses, physicians, and other members of the health care team who normally practice in different areas to be ready to work in expanded ICU space.  

“Right now, we’re really interdisciplinary,” she said, noting close collaboration with supply chain, facilities, and information technology colleagues. “You have to have all of them to do this. It’s very complicated to bring regular units up to ICUs. I love the teamwork and everyone rowing in the same direction.”

Nurse Innovation

A regular feature of the culture of the hospital is for nurse involvement in decision-making and innovation, Ferrell said. 

During the pandemic, the innovation continues. For example, Ferrell pointed to a staff nurse who developed, using intravenous tubing, a method to decrease the number of direct contacts patients and providers needed to have with one another. 

“Anything we can do to try to innovate our practice, we do, especially at times like this,” Ferrell said. “My biggest responsibility is to really empower my team to make good decisions and to make change.”

Ferrell said the hospital has worked hard to protect the safety of patients and the health care team.

“From my perspective, the reason we are as successful as we have been so far is we really care for the safety of our patients, but it’s just as important that we’re protecting the safety and well-being of our providers,” she said. “The safety of our health care team is just as important. It’s not one or the other. It’s 100 percent both.”

Jesuit Values

During a brief interview, Ferrell spoke of her daughter, Kate, also a nurse at the hospital who directs in-patient surgical services.  “My family is in awe of what Kate’s doing,” she said. “They’re teary-eyed over it. She’s doing harder work than I am.” 

She also spoke of her college roommate Catherine “Katie” Skelton (NHS’75), who is chief nursing officer of St. Joseph Hospital in California.

“We were roommates all through Georgetown, and we both ended up having the same job at Magnet hospitals no less, but on different coasts,” added Ferrell, who serves on the School of Nursing & Health Studies’ Board of Advisors.

The values of Georgetown are shining at this moment, she said.

“For me the Jesuit cura personalis and women and men for others, we live and breathe that every single day,” Ferrell said. “It’s heightened during the pandemic. But it’s really core of how we live and work every day.”