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Cambria Heights resident talks experience as nurse practitioner and educator during COVID-19

Photo courtesy of St. Paul's School of Nursing

Ever since she could remember, Cambria Heights resident Junie White has wanted to help others and saw herself as a “people person.”

For the past three years, White — who started off as a registered nurse in 2006 and eventually became a nurse practitioner in 2012 — has worked at the St. Paul’s School of Nursing in Rego Park, as a faculty member teaching new nurses the ins and outs of medical-surgical nursing and clinicals.

But when the pandemic started to rapidly spread across New York City, White had to learn how to navigate working during the “new normal” while simultaneously teaching young nurses who were getting ready to enter the workforce.

She also recalled her own experience contracting COVID-19 in December 2020, making her fearful of passing the virus along to her family, especially her grandchildren.

“My major concern was that my children and grandchildren would be harmed — that was my greatest fear. That’s why I opened up to my students [that] once you choose a path in life and you make it the path you choose because of what you love, you have nothing to fear but fear itself,” White said.

After she recovered, White immediately returned to work. The educator said that sharing her story with students helped to reassure them that they were equipped with the skills to work through COVID-19.

“This is why I reassure them: [because] I have been there,” White said. “You are going to be faced with challenges like this. We don’t know if we might not face something else like COVID-19 or even worse. But because you are a nurse and you are trained as a nurse, these are some of the things that you can cloud your mind with. Sometimes help doesn’t mean you’re going there to give [patients] an injection or hang an IV. Sometimes help means that you’re going to hold their hands and reassure them that this is what we’re going to do and this will help.”

Over the past year, White has learned that knowledge is one of the best tools to have, whether she’s speaking to her students or patients. She’s interacted with and observed countless individuals who lived in fear during the pandemic and credited some of the fear to a lack of education.

“As healthcare providers, we can show some empathy and care for these people who are concerned about what is going to happen to them,” she said. “What we can do is educate them on how they can take care of themselves and how to protect themselves and their family.”

In addition to teaching and working as a nurse practitioner, White began volunteering during the weekends. During the height of the pandemic, she heard that Governor Cuomo was calling on retired nurses and other volunteers to work at makeshift clinics in underserved areas.

“They sent information, so I filled out the form and said I’ll volunteer for a day and that’s when I got started,” White said.

Her intention was to volunteer for one day but she realized that she could continue her full-time job while volunteering on the weekends. Many of the patients she serves at these clinics are elderly, homeless, HIV/AIDS-positive or battle substance abuse.

White said that she does not see herself as a “health care hero” or “inspiration,” but rather as a person who is willing to help those in need.

“[I’m] a person who will help in a time of need as much as I can within my capacity. It doesn’t matter who or where or what — as long as is within my capacity to help, I can help.”

In her spare time, White cares for her grandchildren and goes to church, where she and a team work to educate the community about health care.

“I found a little team at church where I do annual health fair. We invite the community to come in and we give them health care education,” she said. “I’m big on education because I think a lot the illness in society is because people are not educated enough on how their body works and what to do. Sometimes on the primary level you can prevent a lot of illness just through education.”

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