National Nurses Week: Brandon native and Navy Nurse Corps Lt. at forefront of COVID fight

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For Lt. Anna Dufour, a native of Brandon, Mississippi, and the other approximately 4,000 active duty and reserve Navy Nurse Corps officers, helping stop the spread of COVID-19 follows their legacy of delivering patient-centered care since their inception 112 years ago.

The Navy Nurse Corps birthday falls on May 13, inexorably linked to National Nurses Week, celebrated annually May 6 to May 12, which fittingly ends on the birthday of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing.

Then, as now, caring for the sick and injured, establishing sanitary methods, supporting operational readiness during the Crimean War (1853-56) are legacies established as nursing standards by Nightingale and notable commitment by the Nurse Corps against the pandemic outbreak.

Dufour and the other 60 Nurse Corps and 80 civilian nurses at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton have been tasked with proactively handling multiple assignments to screen, triage, and test for COVID-19, as well as continue daily needed support for acute-care patients.

NMRTC Bremerton’s Urgent Care Clinic (UCC) is a microcosm example of nurses – and teamwork – in action.

“One thing I have learned from nursing is that you never have to manage anything alone if you belong to a strong unit and team,” said Dufour, an Urgent Care Clinic (UCC) staff nurse. “The UCC physicians, nurses, and corpsmen working together troubleshooting the ever-changing demands to the daily workflow is what has contributed to the success of the UCC helping slow the spread of COVID-19 within the military members and outlying community.”

Dufour, a 2009 University of Southern Mississippi graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science, followed by a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2011, has been in the Navy for three years on a direct commission program. She also brings experience as a registered nurse with nine years of experience, including over six years in the oncology/bone marrow transplant field.

“I always had an interest in military history and military nursing history since high school,” Dufour said, adding that prior to becoming active duty, she worked on a civilian 24-bed acute care unit in Austin, Texas, providing care for a unique and critically ill patient population that included bone marrow transplant, surgical and medical oncology patients and in the ambulatory cancer clinic. “I decided to join to see if it was a career path I would want to pursue long term. I also had been interested in pursuing humanitarian missions in some capacity, which I knew would be an opportunity in the Navy. Also, I loved the idea of educating and working with the corpsmen.”

That experience and aptitude had led to being assigned as acting UCC division officer helping to coordinate dealing with the challenge of daily preparing, providing, and responding to COVID-19 issues and concerns, along with receiving those with urgent medical conditions.

“Once the role of the UCC staff in the COVID response was established by the command COVID-19 working group, it primarily came down to making sure we were staffed in a capacity to be able to safely take care of patients within the COVID medical tents and within the UCC,” explained Dufour. “From a nursing perspective, that was achieved by communicating the needs of the unit clearly and concisely to nursing leadership. We have been very lucky to receive nursing support from other units such as the multi-service unit.”

Dufour attests that the most challenging aspect during this time has been maintaining flexibility and adopting different approaches in interacting with patients in the medical tents and within the UCC.

“Providing the correct information and expectations to patients has been challenging as the criteria for testing and quarantining has changed often, so relying on good communication between UCC team members ultimately carries over to the patients,” explained Dufour, lauding the UCC hospital corpsmen for their collective roles in ensuring those in need receive the proper care required.

“The corpsmen have been invaluable in carrying out the daily plan put in place by the COVID-19 working group and the drive-thru screening,” added Dufour. “Absolutely none of the day-to-day aspects of the mission would be possible without them. As a very green junior officer it has been a great privilege to work with and learn from senior enlisted leadership during my time at NMRTC Bremerton.”

Dufour readily acknowledged that nursing in general has a great influence on patient-centered care, citing nurses as the ones usually recognizing the needs of patients and subsequently advocating for them to other services.

“We have the great responsibility of recognizing and supporting our patient’s medical, spiritual, and social needs,” Dufour said.

With the Navy surgeon general’s priority on operational readiness and core mission of producing a medically ready force and a force medically ready, Dufour’s contribution in the UCC has allowed others to deploy when called upon.

“I think it’s given everyone the perspective to always be ready to deploy, or as in my case, be ready to remain in place and continue to support the mission,” said Dufour, referring to taking on extra duties for some of the approximately 10 NMRTC Bremerton Nurse Corps staff members currently embarked on hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

When asked to sum up her experience as a Navy Nurse Corps officer, Dufour replied, “I’ve been exposed to, and learned from, different avenues of medicine and nursing that I would not have normally been exposed to in civilian medicine. It has been gratifying being part of an international healthcare movement that is working towards the same goal and standard of care for patients around the globe.”

When then-President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Naval Appropriations Bill in 1908, he authorized the establishment of the Nurse Corps as a unique Navy staff corps. The Nurse Corps has grown from an initial group of 20 – known as the “Sacred Twenty” to where they are today.

From bedside to battlefield, the Navy Nurse Corps continues to provide compassion, care and concern in all they do, for all those in need, whenever and wherever they are called to duty.

Story written by Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton Public Affairs Officer

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