Inspired to become a nurse by Hurricane Katrina, this Merck employee is giving back by volunteering on the frontlines of COVID-19

Emma Mason, a nurse and volunteer, has joined the COVID-19 battle to return the favor to those who helped her and her family during Hurricane Katrina

We join the World Health Organization by recognizing our frontline heroes, our nurses, during the celebration of “Year of the Nurse and Midwife”

Emma Mason, a registered nurse and Merck employee, is now spending her days volunteering on the frontlines of COVID-19, at a West Virginia hospital. Emma is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest hurricane in American history. She wants to pay back the kindness she received during that time of unprecedented hardship in 2005.

“I have to return the favor. I can’t sit back and watch knowing I have a skillset that could help.”

In Emma’s day job at Merck, she is an executive vaccines sales representative in West Virginia. She’s continued to work as a nurse once a month in the emergency department of WVU Medicine’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. When the outbreak happened, she knew she needed to join her fellow nurses helping patients on the front lines – the people she calls her family. She’s taking on more shifts at the hospital to support the nursing staff working overtime, help patients and try to relieve the burnout some of her fellow nurses are experiencing.


“The ER is a place where you have to stick together – we are family and I feel a commitment to my colleagues. Merck is allowing me to do what I need to do – put patients first and do this for the people that can’t right now.”

Emma compared today’s experience to her own experience with Hurricane Katrina, when she and her mother fled her hometown of Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, while her father stayed behind to salvage their home. Reflecting on how she relied on front-line workers then, she felt a deep calling to help today.

“We had a MASH-unit hospital, military support, shelter-in-place – for those of us that had shelters. We went to an old train depot to get vaccinated and for medical care. That time in my life solidified my drive to be a public health nurse and to give back. Fear is palpable right now. This is the first time in my career I’m afraid. I have experienced what New York is going through - in the form of a hurricane.”

Even so, this time, she’s on the other side. She’s the one on the front lines and knows this is a challenge and risk for those surrounding her – her husband, parents, sister and dog, Beau.

In honoring the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Emma’s advice to her fellow colleagues is this, “We are the helpers. Be brave. We didn’t go into nursing for the easy cases. Think about the nurses who went through this during the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. We have to put our patients first and this is what we’re doing now. You can see nurses doing this all over the country. Being a nurse and working at Merck goes hand in hand. We always put patients first.”

Listen as Emma talks about her experience volunteering on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the transcript.