Healthcare Heroes – Nycole Oliver, APRN

Everyone knows the story of Superman and his alias Clark Kent.  There was such a contrast in his life as he displayed super-human strength in his noble efforts to save the city of Metropolis, and then worked as a common, news reporter, capturing Lois Lane’s heart, and enjoying the normalcy of life outside of the cape.

cartoon superman and a nurse

CDC guidelines would surely prevent the wearing of an actual cape, however if you peer closely into the life of a modern day nurse, you are likely to see a parallel to the superhero, as he or she dons hazmat suits and surgical masks in an attempt to fight the evil of the Covid-19 virus.  Our lives are being disrupted, stores depleted of necessities and activities that once filled our calendars wiped away by a microscopic organism that rivals any of Lex Luther’s evil schemes.

Just as Clark Kent was willing to put on his red cape, nurses across Arkansas are waking up each day, dressing in hazmat attire, and standing in harm’s way to care for and protect others in their community. One such example is Nycole Oliver, APRN.  In 2019, Nycole was awarded the Arkansas Center for Nursing’s prestigious 40 Nurse Leaders Under 40 Award for her significant contributions to the evolving science of nursing.  It did not come as a surprise to find that in this raging battle against Covid-19, that Nycole is leading efforts in her community.  Nycole is a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner, whom along with caring for and treating her regular patient population, spends her time screening, assessing and evaluating patients for possible exposure.  Her tasks include staying on top of the most recent treatment guidelines for COVID-19 patients, notifying patients of their test results, and supplying proper paperwork for patients with negative test results. Nycole explains, “With a negative test result, there is an urgency to acquire the necessary documentation for the patient to return to work, and with a positive test result, there is fear, anxiety related to the unknown, and a need for reassurance and support.”

Ironically, 2020 was deemed the “Year of the Nurse” long before we knew of the COVID-19 virus. I have worked with nurses for a long time and I have always known my colleagues to be heroes in scrubs. While it is no surprise to me to hear about super-human power nurses are displaying during this current crisis, what caught my attention most about Nycole’s story was the role she plays after she has removed the hazmat suit and mask. You see, while it may be easy to recognize the amazing work she does each day as a nurse, it less likely that you see what Nycole accomplishes each day after her long hours in the testing tent. Nycole, much like many parents across the state, is faced with daily AMI assignments, cooking dinner, doing the laundry, and being a wife and mom. Nycole’s son, who normally receives several special education resources and therapies, still needs a mom to help him navigate the AMI educational activities. After spending exhaustive hours providing care as a Nurse Practitioner, Nycole sets up video chats with her son’s Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, and Teachers to ensure that he continues to flourish in school. She is devoted to her profession. She researches the best treatments for the ailments of her patients, but Nycole is also a mom, and just like the rest of us, she is concerned for the health and safety of her family. Yet she gets up every day determined to win this battle against this virus.

I asked Nycole, what keeps her going and what types of support she needs the most, and her answer was simple, yet profound. She spoke of how important it is to be kind. She says, “Be kind to the cashier at the grocery store. Be kind to the teachers trying to reach their students through technology. Be kind to the healthcare worker who explains the need for restricted visitations, and ask your neighbors how they are doing before asking if they have heard the latest on the corona virus. The truth is we rarely know the worries and anxieties that are facing those we meet throughout our day”.  As a nurse, Nycole understands better than most, the importance of kindness, compassion, and grace. Nurses have always been there during times of stress and fear, and nurses understand that kindness builds bridges that find solutions.

Nycole ended our talk sharing a story of such kindness that gave her motivation when she needed it most. She said that she came home one afternoon, after a long day of testing, and phone calls, and fear, and she simply wanted to decontaminate, take a hot shower, and attempt to experience some sense of normalcy. When she arrived at home, she found a package with a note. Inside the package was a couple of pairs of leggings. The note explained that the leggings were for her to wear under her scrubs so that she could remove her scrubs after work without having to wear the scrubs inside the house. Nycole said that the gesture and thoughtfulness meant so much and gave her the strength to continue the fight.

NURSES like Nycole are all around us, donning their superhero hazmat suits to fight the war against Covid-19, then returning home to be a mom or dad, husband or wife, neighbor and friend.  Our kindness to others is the best way to say THANK YOU!

a woman in lab gown

Nycole Oliver is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Baptist Health – Fort Smith.  She is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the University of Southern Alabama.