Nurse anesthesia students fight COVID-19 in New York

Posted on April 14, 2020

Photo of nurses in front of poster of positive messages
Scott Dollar and Ali Cosgrove are students in UNCG's nurse anesthesia program. The two classmates and friends recently traveled to Buffalo, New York, to treat coronavirus patients.
Scott Dollar and Ali Cosgrove are students in UNCG’s nurse anesthesia program. The two classmates and friends recently traveled to Buffalo, New York, to treat coronavirus patients.

After discussing it with his wife, Scott Dollar had pretty much made up his mind on where he was headed as a traveling nurse.

Dollar would help treat coronavirus patients in Buffalo, New York, but he hoped one of his UNC Greensboro classmates would come along with him. The first person he called was Ali Cosgrove, a fellow second-year student in UNCG’s nurse anesthesia program.

Cosgrove had never worked as a traveling nurse, but like Dollar, she was looking for a way to help after seeing the toll the COVID-19 pandemic was having on New York. This was the perfect opportunity to do so alongside a close friend from nursing school.

With their clinicals for UNCG’s nurse anesthesia program on hold, Cosgrove and Dollar were free to spend a month in Buffalo, working five 12-hour shifts a week at a hospital that treats only coronavirus patients. They could then spend their days off studying in their hotel rooms and completing the online assignments that are still due for their classes.

“We both felt a calling when we went into medicine to help people,” said Cosgrove, 34, who earned both her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing from UNCG. “So, when he called and said, ‘Are you interested in going?’ I was like ‘If I have a buddy, then yeah, let’s do this and let’s go help.’”

Photo of nurse in PPE
Bevin Strickland is working in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Queens.

On April 5, around the same time Cosgrove and Dollar arrived in Buffalo, a third UNCG nurse anesthesia student landed in New York City. Bevin Strickland is scheduled to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in August, but first she’s slated to spend the next two months working in Queens as a nurse in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Coincidentally, all three UNCG students started working on the same day last week. Strickland began in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Queens, while Cosgrove and Dollar are caring for patients at the Catholic Health COVID-19 Treatment Facility at St. Joseph Campus in a Buffalo suburb.

“My parents and my family, they were very supportive. I was a paramedic before I went into nursing, so they kind of know that I can deal with the chaos, I guess,” Dollar, 30, said. “I just kind of have that personality to jump into things.”

Strickland, meanwhile, was so desperate to help she emailed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asking how she could volunteer as a nurse. She also sent a message to the official Twitter account for the New York City Mayor’s Office that read, “How do ICU nurses outside of NY sign up to help?”

Strickland finally got connected with Mount Sinai Queens and scrambled to get everything in order before she left North Carolina. But her first flight to New York was cancelled.

On April 3, Strickland took part in a DNP poster presentation that the UNCG School of Nursing held over Zoom instead of in-person because of the coronavirus. Two days later, she put on a protective facemask and flew to New York against her mother’s wishes.

“I’m in a position to help, and I feel like there are a lot of people out there in nursing and healthcare that don’t have a choice about being there in New York,” said Strickland, 47, who’s an Army Reserve lieutenant from High Point. “I really felt like I had a duty being in a situation that I am able to help. I’m not working a fulltime job. I don’t have all these other commitments. My twin sons are 16 years old. They’re totally supportive of it.”

Cosgrove admitted she was “in shell shock” on her first day working at the COVID-19 treatment facility outside of Buffalo. She and Dollar were assigned to different units, and by noon, she was treating patients on her own.

She said she was relieved to see Dollar as soon as their shifts finally ended.

“To be able to come out of there and be able to see someone’s face that I knew, I mean, it’s making the transition and what we’re doing so much easier,” Cosgrove said. “Not that it’s easy by any means but having someone that you can talk to about what you saw and then to hold you accountable to get our schoolwork done, it makes a huge difference.”

Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing


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