Nursing Alums Maintain Mentoring Connection During Pandemic

Registered Nurse Megan Krage ’17 last December earned her national credential to be a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) and the timing was ideal in her role caring for high-risk patients in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at UCSF Medical Center.

Then came the COVID-19 crisis and the new challenges and adjustments that it presents. Megan spent seven weeks working in telemedicine on a COVID hotline before returning this week to her cardiac ICU position. Fortunately, Megan was able to lean on Ashley Ramirez ‘06, her longtime friend and mentor from Dominican. Ashley, who is continuing her education at Johns Hopkins University in a Doctorate of Nursing Practice and Masters of Business Administration dual-degree program, is on the COVID frontline.

One of Ashley’s roles is a clinical specialist with a health tech company, Elemeno Health, based out of Oakland. During the pandemic, Elemeno has partnered with the American College of Emergency Physicians to provide standardized content that is essential when working in the Emergency Department (ED).  Ashley also is an advanced practice nurse at Sutter Health Alta Bates Summit Medical Center as a Neonatal Advanced Life Support and transport specialist.  She attends deliveries and helps babies breathe as they transition to life appropriately.

As busy as Ashley is, she connected with Megan to reassure her. They can relate personally and emotionally to the challenging times facing all nurses at this time.  Megan’s job is caring for infants, children, adolescents, and adults with congenital heart disease after open-heart surgery, most commonly during the most critical parts of recovery.

“Megan is a beautiful force of energy.  She is full of light and fight. She is passionate and giving.  What this woman has overcome and achieved in her life thus far is incredible.  She is so inspirational and it’s such an honor and privilege to see her excel in her passion as a cardiac nurse,” Ashley says.

“As with everything in life, it’s about perspective. I can relate to Megan on many levels and I think our greatest commonality is that we are learners, never content on settling, constantly wanting to master something new. When we chat, it’s a good reminder for us both to pause, reflect and celebrate our success.  I think it’s so easy to look back and see all the things we could have done better or all the things we still need to learn.  But I am trying to weave in grace, the ability to be gentle on ourselves and the things we are learning and growing from. I am and will always be proud of Megan. I look forward to seeing all the incredible things she continues to accomplish in the future.”

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Ashley first met Megan when Megan was a 15-year-old sophomore at Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill attending Camp Taylor, a summer camp supporting young people with congenital heart disease (CHD). Megan was so inspired by Ashley that she came to Dominican’s School of Health and Natural Sciences to major in nursing, joined the Camp Taylor staff herself, and was motivated to follow in Ashley’s footsteps.

“I wanted to be a nurse when I met Ashley, but I never really knew it until I really knew Ashley,” Megan recalls. “It was definitely the beginning of a sisterhood that we will always be connected and always have that bonding. Dominican does pride you off of that sense of community, that supportive tight network.”

Ashley agrees.

“Dominican has always built a solid foundation in my personal and professional life. The Dominican values of study, reflection, community and service is a common thread that weaves through my personal and professional life,” she says. “Nursing naturally has a strong sense of service and community that is pouring out during this time of this pandemic. However, I do believe in reflection as a powerful tool, especially in my professional life during this time. Since the pandemic has hit the United States, it has drastically changed our healthcare system and likely permanently changed it. There is no going back.  This is the beginning of a new world we are embracing.  Spirituality and reflection will be instrumental in how we cope and heal ourselves as caretakers, healers and providers during this time.”

Ashley has been instrumental in guiding and supporting Megan’s goals throughout her nursing career. In the summer of 2014, they traveled to Hawaii where Ashley was a supervisor and Megan a mentor at a leadership family camp for Camp Taylor. The camp facilitated a mentorship for more than 20 children with CHD and their families with rented cabins on the north shore of Oahu. Years later they are still partners  – sort of. Megan was oriented in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit utilizing Elemeno Health as a precepting tool.

They are friends who share a passionate connection to a profession, particularly now when they are trying to stay balanced and cope with all the changes, stress, and anxiety that percolates around the unknown of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is highlighting the risk of working clinically at this time. For the past couple of months, we have seen massive shortages of personal protective equipment, lack of testing for COVID-19 and daily workflow changes to which nurses are constantly adapting.  It definitely is a challenging time to be a nurse, to provide safe care and to ensure our own safety as frontline healthcare workers.  Currently, I feel well supported by my hospital and my peers during this time. I consider myself fortunate as this is not the case for many nurses across our nation,” Ashley says.

“Ultimately, nursing is about making a difference and helping when help is needed.  It may be delivering direct patient care or it might be stepping away from patient care helping in a non-clinical capacity such as telehealth, informatics or policy. All of these roles matter and make a difference. Health care ought to be a team approach and it feels incredible when this is accomplished on behalf of a patient.  Dominican has always prided themselves on service and community, making it a perfect training ground for future nurses.”

Megan was one of those future nurses when she met Ashley. They try to meet annually face-to-face, but have not been able to since last fall. However, they stay in touch by phone and email. They have the utmost respect and admiration for each other.

“As a nurse, it's always really nice to have someone to talk to who has done your job and, for Ashley, she knows me well anyway, so this has always been a cherished relationship,” Megan says.

“Ashley has always been a nursing mentor for me and I’m immeasurably grateful to have really set this goal in working in pediatric critical care when Ashley was my nurse caring for me back in 2009 and to have that goal come to fruition has just been the best feeling and really a dream come true. For almost three years I’ve been working in the pediatric cardiac ICU and, though it’s been the steepest of learning curves, it’s more than I could have ever imagined or been prepared for. I love it though, as much as I hoped I would and I feel so thankful.”

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