Nurses on the Front Lines: Gillian Harris

Nurses on the Front Lines: Gillian Harris (2018)


Nurses are facing unprecedented challenges right now as they face the COVID-19 pandemic. With these realities in mind, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Nursing (CON) has launched a forum for alumni who are on the front lines of this pandemic to share their stories.

Gillian Harris is an oncology staff nurse at UT Medical Center. Gillian, who earned her BSN from CON in 2018, is also currently a DNP student in the CON. She is working with at risk patients who are immunocompromised and can no longer have loved ones by their side during treatment. Gillian is learning to navigate not only her role as a nurse but as a support system to her patients.

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We all hold a reason close to our hearts for why we chose to become nurses. But when we decided on nursing, we never imagined what being a nurse would mean for us only two years into our careers. We had no idea that our sweet patients would be stuck in their hospital rooms alone, not allowed visitors. We did not consider the possibility of running out of supplies to protect ourselves, not only from a disease plaguing the entire world, but also from routine nursing tasks such as wound care or chemotherapy administration. We have all, at some point, credited one reason for choosing to be a nurse as the affirmation that we would “always have a job,” but we never could have understood the gravity that statement would hold.

On the oncology unit where I am a nurse, most of the patient population lacks a healthy immune system. For this reason, I do not directly care for patients with contagious illness under normal circumstances, and therefore do not currently care for patients suffering from COVID-19. While my colleagues and I are tremendously grateful for those men and women on the front lines in harsh conditions all over the world overseeing the care of Coronavirus patients, other patient populations are suffering during this time as well. Many of the leukemic patients we care for are required to stay in the hospital for 30 days or more for induction of chemotherapy. These patients are a blessing to take care of. They are determined and graceful and strong, and it is a pleasure to know them and their families. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, our cancer patients, along with every patient in the hospital, are not allowed visitors to support and distract them from the adversity they are facing. While it is heartbreaking to see the emotional toll this takes on our wonderful patients, these circumstances have illuminated how unique and important the role of a nurse is. Coronavirus has added an even stronger responsibility to my job as a nurse to support my patients emotionally. While a cancer diagnosis and hospitalization are enough to rock anyone’s world, my patients are currently going through their cancer journeys alone. It is an honor to be a caregiver and friend to them during this time, and to be more of a support for these patients than I ever knew I could be.

My advice to a brand new nurse entering their career on the front lines is to be patient. Think about what it would feel like to be a patient facing illness or injury without being allowed visitors in the hospital to support you. Think about how you would want a nurse to treat your mother or sibling if they were in the hospital without you there to advocate for them. Remember that your patients are even more stressed than normal, and grant them a little extra compassion.

As a graduate student returning to UT, I have felt fully supported by the CON during this time and could not ask for more.

If you are interested in sharing your story please visit