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National Nurses Week - Nurses reflect on pandemic's impact on healthcare

Newswatch 16's Rose Itzcovitz spoke with nurses in Wilkes-Barre who reflected on the pandemic and their longstanding commitment to serve.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Alice McGarry has been a nurse for more than 54 years -- 53 of those with Geisinger before it was even called Geisinger.

Standing outside Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre on the last day of National Nurses Week, she reflected on her work over the decades.

"Nursing now is a far cry from what it was when I first graduated," McGarry, who serves as the emergency department's administrative team coordinator, said. "There are so many more opportunities. There are so many advances in medicine."

But McGarry says she could never have imagined the pandemic.

"Never in all of my years of nursing did I think we would ever come across anything like that."

Among all the challenges hospitals face across the country, including nursing shortages, McGarry says losing that personal touch of families visiting loved ones hit her hardest.

"We did everything we could do get the families at the bedside. And the pandemic forced the families away from the bedside," said McGarry.

"It was unprecedented times. We didn't know what we were going to combat and what was going to happen during these times," said Stephanie Rarig, Geisinger Wyoming Valley's director of nursing.

Rarig says the pandemic brought her medical family closer together.

"There was so much collaboration with every single discipline. Every job was everybody's job."

The nurses say COVID numbers are down, and families are allowed back in to see patients. While they can't promise it'll stay that way, they say as medical professionals; they are more prepared than ever.

"The difference between the beginning of the pandemic and now is I would say that we're experts in taking care of these patients and know exactly what to do, how to do it," Rarig said.

National Nurses Week is a time designated to remind everyone to thank medical professionals for their dedication and sacrifices.

The nurses at Geisinger tell Newswatch 16 they feel more appreciated since the start of the pandemic. 

"We get more letters in now than we have ever gotten before," Rarig said. "'We appreciate you.' 'This is what you did for us.' And they call us out by name."

The nurses say even though this is a week meant to show thanks to the nurses, the nurses are thankful for the chance to serve. 

"When you choose nursing," said Rarig, "you choose a profession where you're giving of yourself."

"That passion comes from your desire and love of caring for others," McGarry added.

Watch more stories about the coronavirus pandemic on WNEP’s YouTube page.