BSN Alumnae Live Georgetown Values During COVID-19 Pandemic

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December 15, 2020 – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ani Bilazarian (NHS’17) and Caroline Kechejian (NHS’17), who both received their BSN at Georgetown in 2017, have been working as nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Bilazarian, also a PhD candidate in nursing and public health at Columbia University, has been an emergency room nurse there since 2017.

Ani Bilazarian (NHS’17) and Caroline Kechejian (NHS’17) stand together in surgical scrubs in a hospital hallway.
Ani Bilazarian (NHS’17) and Caroline Kechejian (NHS’17)

After graduation, Kechejian worked in orthopedics at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City before moving to the cardiac ICU at her current hospital.

‘Often the Bridge’

Kechejian said her unit has been addressing COVID-19 since March.

“My ICU was one of the first to turn into a COVID ICU at the start of the pandemic,” she explained. “Currently, half of the beds on my unit are occupied by positive COVID patients. Three to four days a week – for 12 hours at a time – you can find me dressed head-to-toe in PPE, while assessing, medicating, repositioning, and educating patients. As a nurse, I am often the bridge between my patients and the rest of the health care team to deliver updates and ensure closed-loop communication.”

Bilazarian added that the emergency department had to adapt quickly to care for patients as the pandemic unfolded.

“Patients, families, and clinicians had to act with flexibility and patience as the whole hospital system and overall workflows were changing constantly,” she recalled, noting surgery cancelations, unit reconfigurations, and patient transfers. 

“The spring was a constant state of uncertainty,” she said. “One day we were outside in a tent treating healthier COVID patients, and the next we were in the highest acuity area of our ED running from room to room trying to stabilize the sickest in what felt like a revolving door of incoming patients.”

‘Sense of Camaraderie’

Kechejian says she feels “so blessed to be a nurse right now.”

“As miserable as 12-hour shifts can be during a pandemic, I feel more purposeful and focused than ever before in my career,” she said. “Teamwork has never been more important. Thankfully, my coworkers are amazing. They keep me afloat on the really tough days. And right now, there are a lot of really tough days.” 

Bilazarian agreed, noting there has been “a palpable sense of camaraderie and support every day, from our city, our leaders, and our colleagues. I felt honored and humbled to be able to serve our city and to have tangible skills to contribute to this pandemic.”

Helping Patients 

Seeing patients recover has helped inspire Kechejian during these very difficult months at work.

“It’s on these days that I remind myself that nursing as a profession is altruistic in nature,” she said. “This is the reason why it feels simultaneously exhausting and incredible to nurse such sick patients back to health. But the reward is the main reason I love being a nurse. Watching these patients turn the corner toward recovery is a miraculous thing every single time.”  

She added that Georgetown taught her that “nurses are the last line of defense” and “patients are more than just their illness.”

“Additionally, as an ICU nurse, I often find myself reflecting on the Jesuit value cura personalis,” Kechejian said. “While it can be so easy to focus solely on my patients’ physical needs, my Georgetown nursing professors instilled in me that these patients’ emotional, spiritual, mental, and social needs contribute just as much to their successful recoveries.”

Engaging Uncertainty

Bilazarian also pointed to Georgetown’s values. “The values Georgetown instilled so intentionally in the nursing major – throughout every class and every assignment – of social justice, cura personalis, respect, and value of the common good have become fully ingrained in my work,” she said, while offering praise for families, patients, and her colleagues.

“In NYC, as the first and hardest hit city by COVID, we had no precedent or standard for treating COVID patients,” Bilazarian noted. “To do our job well meant to become accustomed to unknowns and to accept hourly changes to workflow and treatment process as part of the routine.” 

Said Bilazarian: “Georgetown taught me that to be a nurse meant to commit to caring for people in the best way I can and to run towards opportunities that allow me to do this, not away from them.”

Words of Praise 

Bilazarian and Kechejian wished to include a sentiment they both share: “The people who deserve the praise are not the clinicians at the front lines, but the family members left outside our doors. Thank you for trust, for your patience, and understanding. Our patients who were alone from childbirth to long ICU stays . . . you are the real heroes.”

By Bill Cessato