Nursing Grad, Instructor on COVID-19 Front Line

Posted on May 6, 2020
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Dr. Nycole Oliver, a two-time graduate of the University of South Alabama College of Nursing, practices at Baptist Health Family Clinic in Fort Smith, Ark., and helps staff her town’s coronavirus testing site. data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Nycole Oliver, a two-time graduate of the University of South Alabama College of Nursing, practices at Baptist Health Family Clinic in Fort Smith, Ark., and helps staff her town’s coronavirus testing site.

At any given moment, Dr. Nycole Oliver might be found practicing medicine at Baptist Health Family Clinic in Fort Smith, Ark.; staffing her town’s coronavirus testing site; or working on a COVID-19 task force to advocate on behalf of her nursing colleagues.

As a distance learner who earned both a Master of Science in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of South Alabama College of Nursing, Oliver honed skills at South that she puts to use every day on her local front line of the coronavirus pandemic. Oliver particularly credits her experience at South for sharpening her self-motivation, time management and efficiency. “You can’t just look at the present,” she said. “You have to look at everything around you and what’s going to be coming down the pike.”

Oliver’s time management skills have been essential this spring as she’s juggled her various roles related to the pandemic. For the past six weeks, she’s been splitting her time between the primary care clinic where she normally works and her town’s coronavirus testing tent, where roughly 75 people have been tested for COVID-19 each day. During a recent weekend “surge campaign” ordered by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the site spiked to nearly 1,000 tests.

Potential COVID-19 patients in Fort Smith are first screened over the phone. If they qualify, they come to the testing center, where Oliver re-screens them before they are tested. Oliver is also responsible for calling patients to deliver their results. The hospital system where she works has teamed with another local hospital to staff the tent, so Oliver takes turns with another nurse practitioner.

In her spare time, Oliver also works on behalf of her fellow nurses through the various associations with which she’s affiliated. As the Arkansas representative of the American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners (AAENP) and a member of its COVID-19 task force, Oliver reached out to every AAENP member in her state to ask if they had any specific legislative or educational requests.

Many members told her they could use additional mental health support in the midst of so many unknowns. Before she switched to family medicine, Oliver spent nearly two decades working in the emergency department, so she’s no stranger to the necessity of suppressing feelings in order to take care of a patient’s immediate needs. Usually, she says, there comes a period afterward when a healthcare worker can sit back and process those emotions. “But with this pandemic, where you’re getting hit hard every day, it’s hard, if not impossible, to take that step back and take care of yourself,” Oliver said.

In response to that, the task force is organizing a series of webinars on mental health topics for AAENP members.

Oliver also serves as board secretary of the Arkansas Nurse Practitioners Association (ANPA). That group has been working with legislators to attempt to lift practice barriers for nurses.

“We’ve been trying to get that for a while,” she said, “but in light of this pandemic, it would free up a lot of us to do more things.”

Today, if a nurse in Arkansas wants to work across the state, they have to find a physician who will sign their collaborative practice agreement in order for them to practice. “That’s just not feasible right now,” Oliver said. Waiving those requirements, she said, would make it easier for nurses to travel to virus hotspots to work.

A mover and shaker in nursing even before the pandemic, Oliver is earning accolades for her work. This year she joins 160 colleagues who have been named fellows of the Emergency Nurses Association's Academy of Emergency Nursing. The Emergency Nurses Association established the Academy of Emergency Nursing in 2004 to honor emergency nurses who have made substantial contributions to emergency nursing, advanced their profession and provided leadership to the organization.

Reflecting on her time as a student at South, Oliver highlights the value of what she learned in acute care, especially under Dr. Maryanne Bolton. That respect goes both ways.  A year after Oliver finished her doctorate program, Bolton called her up with a proposal. As Oliver recalls, Bolton said, “Your grades were stellar, your work was stellar. I see you’re doing good things, and I want you to come work for me.” Oliver took her up on the offer. Since starting as an adjunct instructor at South in 2016, she has taught pharmacology and leadership, as well as acute care clinicals.

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