Nursing alumna documents New York City coronavirus journey

Brooke Killmon
June 23, 2020

With each day bringing new COVID-19 discoveries and information, hospitals and health care workers are taking alternative approaches to documenting the real-time effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on medical facilities.

Emily Wallace, a 2015 Penn State College of Nursing alumna and current Lenox Hill Hospital nurse, was contacted by the hospital’s public relations division to create a series of video diaries, depicting her experiences living and working as a health care professional in New York City.


Emily Wallace

IMAGE: Provided

Upon her graduation, the Philadelphia native moved to New York City, beginning her nursing career at the Lenox Hill Hospital, located in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Despite the move to one of the largest cities in the U.S., Wallace was adjusted to the area having already interned at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

With almost five years of professional nursing experience under her belt and a newly appointed promotion to assistant nurse manager in January, Wallace felt ready for more responsibilities and that's just what she received.

On March 13, Wallace’s unit admitted its first COVID-19 positive case and, as history has shown, it would not be the last.

“Since our first patient (March 13) through the end of April, it was nonstop action. You would be in the room with one patient and your other patient down the hall would be crashing at the same time,” said Wallace. “People and systems were pushed to their breaking point. It required an immense amount of teamwork and innovation to be able to change the way we normally care for our patients to a way we care for them during an emergency.”

Despite transitioning into a more managerial position, Wallace was still able to utilize her clinical experience and work hands-on with the patients. While focusing time and energy on helping her unit with patient issues, Wallace also often acted as a charge nurse, transporting patients to testing and other units, like intensive care.

“I really relied on my fellow leadership team at Lenox Hill for guidance during this crisis. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, there were always multiple people I could reach out to for help,” said Wallace. “I am undeniably proud of the work that we were able to accomplish during this insane circumstance. I know that the systems and practices we adopted will continue to help us in the future.”

Although the stress of the coronavirus weighed heavily on Wallace and her unit, their surrounding community ensured that their hard work did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Each evening, members of the New York Police Department, Fire Department of the City of New York and others gathered outside the Lenox Hill Hospital to clap and cheer for the health care workers. Along with daily food and personal protective equipment donations, everyone was thankful for the support.

“It can get overwhelming when every day you have the responsibility of people’s lives in your hands to care for. We are reminded during times like this that our work is so important, now more than ever people need us,” said Wallace. “We cannot thank everyone enough who helped us during this time.”

With a recent decrease in COVID-19 cases at the Lenox Hill Hospital, Wallace and her staff have had more time to reflect and digest the last few months of chaos and all that the unit has accomplished. For Wallace, that also meant reflecting on her time spent at Penn State.

“Being prepared for an emergency requires a solid foundation of basic nursing skills. I could not have moved into a management position with less than five full years of nursing under my belt without the foundations Penn State College of Nursing gave me.”

Wallace was heavily involved in her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, and the Student Nurses Association at Penn State (SNAPS). Knowing that she wanted to incorporate helping others into her career, Wallace chose to become a nurse, and admits she couldn’t have picked a better major.

“I am lucky that I practice nursing in a city like New York City. I am able to learn and grow from the stories and experiences that others are able to share, and make a difference in our world together,” said Wallace. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 01, 2020