DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > School of Nursing COVID research

Nursing duri​ng COVID: Researchers interview 100 front-line nurses

Digital Demons: Rising Up Remotely

School of Nursing faculty and student
School of Nursing faculty members and students are conducting research by interviewing 100 nurses from diverse backgrounds of practice, race and geography who are working with COVID-19 patients. Clockwise from top left: Kashica Webber-Ritchey, Shannon Simonovich, Tiffany Ponder and Cheryl Soco. (Images courtesy of School of Nursing faculty)
Nurses sharing their stories from the COVID-19 pandemic may change the health care profession, says Shannon Simonovich, an assistant professor in DePaul University’s School of Nursing. Simonovich is leading a study to interview 100 nurses working with COVID-19 patients.

“As public health researchers, we help train the front line. And we are hearing some stories that confirm the resilience and importance of nurses during a public health crisis,” says Simonovich, a registered nurse.

Nursing faculty members at DePaul will conduct the research and are reaching out to nurses from a diverse range of racial, geographic and professional specializations. Researchers will ask nurses how they prepared themselves physically and mentally to treat patients during the pandemic, what kind of formal support they received, and how the experience has affected their outlook as nurses. 

"Initial conversations for the qualitative study have been incredibly eye-opening,” Simonovich says. “The fundamentals of nursing practice are saving lives right now."

Nurses taking care of each other

Emergency room nurse practitioner and adjunct faculty member Cheryl Soco has been treating patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital during the pandemic and is part of the research team. 

“Nurses’ experiences and reflections are invaluable in helping society and the health care industry understand what we’re going through and what we need,” Soco says. She has two decades of experience as a nurse practitioner and earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice at DePaul this spring.

“Many nurses are showing great resilience and helping to support each other and the next generation of nurses through example,” she says. She hopes the study will give nurses a chance to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and what should change.

“Sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves, and this is an opportunity to strengthen the profession and share in a way that is going to have an impact,” she says.

Diversity matters

Researchers are seeking nurses who are working with COVID-19 patients from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and nurses who identify as members of those groups. Nurses who serve communities of color are more likely to be non-white, note the researchers. To gather these under-represented voices, nurses on the team have been reaching out via professional and social networks.

“My passion is working with vulnerable populations to aid in better addressing their specific health needs,” says Kashica Webber-Ritchey, an assistant professor of nursing at DePaul. As a member of the team, Webber-Ritchey brings experience conducting research in vulnerable populations. 

“Ensuring a study has adequate representation of vulnerable populations is key,” Webber-Ritchey says. “We’re taking extra steps to make sure that we're including those groups so their voices are heard as well because they can offer a different perspective."

Many studies do not take these extra steps and are not representative of the profession, explains student Tiffany Ponder. Working toward a Master of Science in the School of Nursing and serving as the study coordinator, Ponder says it’s frustrating to flip to the end of a study and find that researchers knew their findings were limited by a lack of diversity.

“I’m starting to notice many loopholes, especially for people of color, in which the effects of inequities are demonstrated clearly in the lack of diversity within the field of nursing,” Ponder says. 

A lack of diversity among nurses may exacerbate health disparities, she notes. A 2017 study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that nurses from minority backgrounds represented only 19.2 percent of registered nurses. Minorities make up more than a third of the U.S. population.

While working on this study, Ponder has enjoyed growing as a researcher and is now considering pursuing a Ph.D. Ponder says coordinating the interviews for the study has built her connections with faculty members. 

“I love the amount of exposure to nursing beyond the bedside,” Ponder says. As part of the immersion for her master’s degree, Ponder plans to work this fall as an ER nurse at Holy Cross Hospital on Chicago’s West Side. A scholar of health disparities, Ponder is ready to help. 

“I think it will be a good experience to really get some concrete mental pictures of everything they’ve been talking about on the news, because we’ve really been shielded from all of it,” Ponder says.

By collecting stories from the pandemic while they are fresh in the minds of nurses, Simonovich hopes the study can be a true reflection of what nurses felt and went through, and can inform policy and better prepare nurses for the next wave of the pandemic. 

“Nurses are reporting, more than anything, that the pandemic is not changing our fundamental perspective as nurses but reinforcing it,” she says.

Additional DePaul School of Nursing faculty members working on the study include Kim Amer, Elizabeth Aquino, Donna Badowski, Susan Krawczyk, Christina Lattner, Young-Me Lee, Lucy Mueller Wiesemann, Roxanne Spurlark and Joseph Tariman. Research assistants are Lily Amer, Debi Rhyner, Payal Shah and Bonnie Stevens.

More about the research on the Maternal Child ​Health​ Initiative​ Research Collaborative website​.