Council members Hillis, Smith share experiences, gratitude as National Nurses Week celebrated

Today marks the start of National Nurses Week, a commemorative week that runs from May 6–12 and honors the incredible work of those in the nursing profession.

In celebration of the week, District 9 Council member Dustin Hillis and District 1 Council member Carla Smith shared their stories as former nurses and expressed gratitude for the unprecedented work and difficulties that those in the profession have particularly experienced during the past year because of COVID-19.

Council member Hillis attended Georgia State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing before taking a job in the neuroscience intensive care unit (ICU) at Emory University Hospital.

Hillis said he had a long-standing interest in working in healthcare.

“My first degree is in microbiology, which I love. I later saw that Georgia State had a great accelerated nursing program for those already with bachelor’s degrees, so I decided that would be a good fit,” he said.

During his time at Emory University Hospital, he served on the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak team that helped to successfully treat four patients who had contracted the disease.

“That was quite an experience,” Hillis said. “I remember it almost like it was yesterday. I was working my regular shift in the neuroscience ICU and continued to see and hear all of the news about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa when my clinical nurse specialist came around and told me that two Americans had contracted the disease doing medical and missionary work and that they would be coming to Emory.”

With his background and interest in microbiology, Hillis was well suited for the team, but he added that he felt mixed emotions due to the extraordinary circumstances.

“It was exciting, but also scary,” he said. “I spoke with my wife, Lindsey, and she had the same emotions I did, but she knew that that my heart would be in it and that I was very interested in working in that unit.”

He noted that the role required a lot of training and quick decision making, which adds to his appreciation of the experiences that those currently in the field have faced during the past year.

“I’m no longer practicing in the hospital, but I want to give a shoutout to the nurses who go in and work 12 or sometimes even 16-hour shifts caring for patients and nursing people back to health,” Hillis said. “I’d also urge people to follow the current CDC guidelines and make sure that you get vaccinated so that we can get through this and put this pandemic behind us.”

Council member Smith earned her bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech University’s Health Science Center School of Nursing and during her career, she worked in the medical surgical (med-surg) unit, orthopedics, ICU, cardiac care unit (CCU), and the emergency room.

“My favorite aspect about being a nurse was that I really enjoyed taking care of people and enjoyed interacting with the patients and their families,” Smith said. “Also, just like serving on City Council, no two days ever looked the same. When I went to work, I knew I was going to have a new experience or learn something new. It’s challenging work, but it’s also exciting and fun.”

From her past experiences and seeing the toll the pandemic has taken on those in the profession, Smith also particularly stressed the importance of honoring and appreciating the work that nurses have performed this year.

“We should especially revere nurses this year,” she said. “The pandemic brought challenges that I don’t think any nurse would have ever dreamt about experiencing, but every single one of them stepped up, embraced the challenge, and worked unimaginable hours certainly to the point of exhaustion. Of all years to appreciate nurses, this is the one that we should really all pause and be grateful for that profession.”

As the pandemic continues, Smith also urged people to remain aware of the COVID-19 guidelines.

“We’re not out of this yet,” Smith said. “We seem to be heading in the right direction, but we still need to follow all the guidelines so that we don’t slip back and cause this profession to be overworked again. Also, if you know a nurse or see one while you’re out, stop for a moment and thank them. My advice really is to follow all the CDC guidelines so that they can also get back to a normal life.”

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