Nurses: our mission to save and improve lives in action

COVID-19 has reminded us all that being a nurse isn't any ordinary job - it's a calling to serve humanity. We asked some of the many nurses at Merck to tell us the characteristics of a great nurse. They told us courage, resourcefulness and compassion are crucial. For them, being a nurse is practicing humanity.

As we honor nurses all around the world for the World Health Organization's 2020 celebration of the "Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwife," hear from some of our own.

Allie Howell, RN, BSN
Clinical research specialist, oncology, based in Birmingham, Alabama

Some people choose a profession; others, like Allie, are called to it. Allie comes from a long line of health care providers, including her mother who was a nurse, and her sister who is a nurse anesthetist. "I think it was just part of who I am," Allie says. "Even when I was six or seven years old, my mom would bring us to help at a nursing home. It was really my destiny to become a nurse."

After 26 years serving as a NICU nurse at University of Alabama, Allie shifted her focus to oncology to care for breast cancer patients and then segued to adolescent HIV patients, which led to her current role in clinical research. Throughout these experiences, she has focused on empathy as part of the patient experience. "We often forget the human side of what we have to do. We are there to support the patient and the family," Allie says. "Things will get done that have to be done, but it's taking those moments with your patient and making them the most important."

Jessica Kratz, RN, BSN
Associate director, strategic planning, strategy & planning, Human Health - U.S.

Not everything can be taught in school, as Jessica knows well. The experience of taking care of patients in their homes helped her connect and empathize with each patient and the family.

Jessica knows that nurses play a unique role acting as an advocate for patients. Some nurses get to work with patients for a long period of time - as she did. In a home health setting, Jessica earned the trust of physicians and pharmacists on the care team. "They knew that we knew our patients best, and there was that trust there. That's where we were true influencers."

Lori Howell, RN, BSN
Executive vaccine customer representative, Human Health - U.S.

As a registered nurse, Lori has a deep passion for educating others in support of public health. "My favorite thing about being a nurse is helping others understand how to be and stay healthy," Lori says. "Whether it's my current role focusing on prevention through vaccinations, speaking with audiences of 300 when I was a Vaccines for Children coordinator in Nebraska, or working in the home health setting, helping teach people is truly fulfilling."

Lori understands that a key component of a nurse's work is building trust. "In nursing school, they really talked about trust, and you can even now find articles on how nurses are the most trusted individuals in the health care system," Lori says. "Nursing teaches you to relate to people. Just treat everybody with kindness and have a little empathy. With what we're dealing with right now, working from home and a major pandemic across the U.S. and across the world, we all need to be a little kinder to each other. And I think nursing definitely teaches that."

Pat Caya, RN, MPH
HIV community liaison virology, Human Health - U.S.

Pat stresses the need for compassion, understanding and level-headedness as critical skills not just for nursing but for life.

Pat Caya is proud to be a nurse and says: "My nursing experience gave me confidence in who I am as a person. The science, communication, being able to multitask, and being able to understand the compassion needed," Pat begins. "If you go into a compassionate area, compassion helps on every level. Especially now with what's happening around the world, being compassionate, the perspective I have as a nurse is helpful for me. I think about my emergency situations. When you were in the middle of a code, you knew what you had to do. You had an algorithm to follow. and you did it ... Step A, step B, and so on. At the end, you're doing everything you can and that's where your power is . ... It's all about what you have responsibility for, and what you don't. But you know what you must do, and you do it, and you do it to the best of your ability."

Lorie Crowe, BSN, RN
Associate director, global clinical trial operations, Merck Research Laboratories

Lorie related a personal story of her first experience caring for a dying patient as a night nurse.

"I was with a woman who was at the end stage of life, and I remembered night after night talking with her," Lorie recalls. "She'd see her family during the day, but I always felt like I was there at night… I stayed with her. And so, I stayed with this woman until the end. I felt like it was so important to have someone there, especially if you can't have a loved one there."

A definitive act of humanity

"Our interviewees described nursing as essential, impactful and rewarding work. But there's a reason why health care delivery is often referred to in terms of war metaphors. Nurses go into battle, and we are fortunate that they typically emerge unscathed, ready to fight another day. It is clear that we owe so much to nurses and health care workers," says Jan Nissen, vice president, patient innovation & engagement.

Humanity is defined by the care and comfort we provide others; nursing is the definitive act of humanity. They continue to provide selfless care in the fight against a terrifying virus and prove through their compassion, courage and dedication, they are the best of the best.

Read more about our heroes on the frontlines of COVID-19 and those who support patients every day.