Student nurses volunteer to work with COVID-19 patients

Published: May 01, 2020

Second semester Queensborough Community College Nursing students Kristen Rodriguez and Adam Kern, both in their 30s, are among the ranks of Queensborough students engaged in the front-line response to COVID-19, caring for the most at-risk people in Queens, nursing home seniors.

“I see this as my patriotic duty and as a privilege,” said Kern, a 2003 graduate of the University of Colorado, who with Rodriguez, has volunteered to help treat and comfort scores of residents at the Parker Jewish Institute in New Hyde Park-Lake Success.

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Nursing students Kristen Rodriguez and Adam Kern, on a work break.

“I feel so proud of our students especially because of the sensitivity they’ve shown to the needs of this very vulnerable population in our community,” noted Queensborough Nursing Professor and Chairperson Anne Marie Menendez.

“They were willing to volunteer and assist at this time of crisis, and that’s impressive,” Menendez added.

Rodriguez, an experienced medical administrator from Whitestone, described the situation at Parker, a 527-bed, non-profit health care and rehabilitation center, as professional, well-resourced and “all hands on deck.”

“We know as students we have limitations and can only do so much. I went in as an extra pair of hands to do anything from taking vital signs and feeding, to cleaning and being a companion to patients. I’m doing whatever is needed,” said Rodriguez, who completed a clinical placement at the nursing home last semester.

Kern, sick and tired of watching news of the virus on TV, felt driven to respond and help his fellow New Yorkers. An experienced caregiver for people with disabilities in Nassau County prior to his enrollment at Queensborough, the Oakland Gardens resident works with staff at Parker who care for residents with severe dementia.

“Family cannot always be with them. So I try to be family to them and feel that, in a real sense, I am,” explained Kern, having held the hands of patients, including that of a 99-year-old woman, comforting them as they passed on.

“They’re scared and I am able to let families know that someone was with their loved one, that they were not alone, that they were comfortable and that everything was done for them,” Kern noted.

Michael N. Rosenblut, President and CEO of Parker Jewish Institute, is thankful for the students’ participation.

“[We] appreciate the response from Queensborough students who are supporting the care of our patients and residents.” 

The student nurses are capable, committed and undaunted according to Parker’s Dr. Colleen Ariola, DNP-HCSM, RN, Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services.

“[They] bring their enthusiasm to learn, support and collaborate with our front line health heroes – we are so grateful for their positive energy,” Ariola said.

It is emotionally and physically exhausting in the red-zone for Kern and Rodriguez, who work and study full-time at home via distance education. (The College introduced online learning in March due to COVID-19).

Stressful as it is, Rodriguez and Kern are able share the load with their respective families who were reluctant, initially, to let them leave home and volunteer.

“There are a lot of emotions, then and now. My 12-year-old son, my boyfriend and my parents did not want me to go at first. They said ‘absolutely not,’ but we came to the realization that nurses can’t pick and choose who to help and who to avoid. Everyone is equal and they asked me if you’re not going to help them, who will?” states Rodriguez.

Kern’s wife, who cares for developmentally disabled people on Long Island and studies at CUNY School of Law, also had reservations.

“It was, and is, a stressful time,” her husband, Adam, explained.

“Everyone’s scared. But the education at and preparation from Queensborough is shockingly good. We have been trained very well by excellent staff and Parker, too, has been wonderful,” he said proudly, just before starting a daily yoga routine designed to help him maintain his health and well-being.

Upon completion of their Queensborough studies next year, Kern and Rodriguez will earn RN qualifications and enroll at York College and CUNY’s School of Professional Studies, respectively, to complete their Bachelor of Nursing degrees under CUNY’s Dual Joint Degree programs.

“This experience definitely confirms for us that we want to be nurses,” Rodriguez acknowledged with her friend in a video chat.

Kern nodded.

“If we can do this under the pressure of current circumstances, we can do it anytime.”

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Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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