For National Nurses Week 2021, which takes place May 6-12, we are proud to highlight some of our amazing nurses at Mass Eye and Ear. Joyce Phelan, BSN, RN, a recent winner of the DAISY award for extraordinary nurses, was nominated by her colleagues for her exceptional care and compassion. During the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Joyce and her team volunteered to staff the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital for four weeks. Focus was fortunate to speak with Joyce and hear about her incredible career.
How long have you been a nurse?
37 years! I started as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Carney Hospital in Dorchester, MA. After many years there, I wanted a change and made the difficult decision to leave my second family at Carney. I was fortunate to have a wonderful transition to Mass Eye and Ear. I have been at the Longwood location for almost nine years, and I work in the pre- and post-op areas for Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, in addition to being a preceptor, or teacher, to the new nurses.
Mass Eye and Ear leadership thanks our amazing nurses.
How did you get into the nursing field?
I was a biology major in college with the intent of having a career in research. My senior year I took a course in Human Anatomy with nursing students. I realized after this course and after doing the lab assignments associated with nursing that I wanted to change my direction. I applied to Nursing School immediately and started right away. And I have never looked back!
Congratulations on your DAISY Award! How did you find out the good news?
It was a total surprise, when they said my name I was shocked. It is such an honor and I’m truly humbled! I went home that night to my husband and told him that this award was the culmination of my career. But all of the nurses I work with are DAISY winners in my eyes.
Any advice for current nursing students or those who are considering going into the field?
First of all you have to enjoy working with people and truly care. Having empathy is vital! Nursing school is a difficult and challenging time in your life. Study hard and stick to it. It’s all worth it in the end when you have RN after your name.
I always tell new nurses that first impressions are the most important when caring for new patients and that they hold the key to making a difference in someone’s life. Treat all patients as though they are members of your own family.
Tell us a bit about your experience with the COVID-19 unit.
Twelve nurses on our Longwood team were deployed to Mass General in late March 2020. On that first day, the anticipation of what we were about to experience was intense. I felt more prepared with my ICU background. I want to say kudos to my coworkers who accompanied me with little or no ICU experience prior to our deployment. They are my heroes!
Even with my ICU background, I have never seen anything like it in my 37 years of nursing. I truly hope and pray I will never have to see it again. We worked all shifts – 7am-7pm 7pm-7am, weekdays and weekends. It was emotionally, physically and spiritually taxing. The experience definitely brought us all closer together as a family. We leaned on each other for support quite often.
One beautiful moment was when a patient who had been in the COVID ICU for quite a while was being transferred out. All the clinicians across disciplines lined the hall and clapped and cheered. Not a dry eye was to be found!
I still to this day think about all the health care workers who are in the thick of it caring for COVID-19 patients.
What are some stand-out memories from your time at Mass Eye and Ear?
There are too many to choose from! The best part of my job is to ease the nerves of patients. It is important to inform and teach them about their procedure. Working with patients at Mass Eye and Ear, I’ve learned that we take our senses for granted. Nothing is more rewarding than to see the wonderful outcomes we encounter on a daily basis. It truly gives me a sense of love and pride for my profession.
Watch our tribute to Mass Eye and Ear nurses for National Nurses Week.