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Nursing during COVID: DePaul University researchers interview front-line nurses

School of Nursing faculty members to document diverse perspectives


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)
CHICAGO ​​— Nurses sharing their stories from the COVID-19 pandemic may change the health care profession, said 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,” said 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 impacted their outlook as nurses. Initial conversations for the qualitative study have been “incredibly eye-opening,” said Simonovich.

“The fundamentals of nursing practice are saving lives right now,” she said.

Nurses taking care of each other
Emergency room nurse practitioner 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,” said Soco, an adjunct faculty member in DePaul’s School of Nursing. Soco 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,” Soco said. She hopes the study will give nurses a chance to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and what should change.

“Sometime​s 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 said.

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 as well. Nurses who are serving communities of color are more likely to be non-white, noted the researchers. To gather these under-represented voices, nurses on the team have been reaching out via professional and social networks.

“My whole passion is working with vulnerable populations to aid in better addressing their specific health needs,” said 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 that a study has adequate representation of vulnerable populations is key,” said Webber-Ritchey. “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,” she said.

 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 said 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 so 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 said. A lack of diversity among nurses may exacerbate health disparities, she noted. A 2017 study​ by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that nurses from minority backgrounds represented only 19.2% 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 said.

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 said.

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 said.

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 at​.


Shannon Simonovich, Ph.D., RN

Cheryl Soco, DNP, APRN, ANP-BC, CEN

Kashica Webber-Ritchey, Ph.D., RN ​

Tiffany Ponder, B.S., LPN

Media contact:
Kristin Mathews​
312-241-9856 ​(cell)