Nursing Student Creates Communication Guide to Help COVID Patients' Families

Kandace Williams
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Kandace Williams

Nurse Kandace Williams was sympathetic when she saw how heartbreaking it was for family members unable to be at the bedside of loved ones hospitalized with COVID-19.

But acute understanding came when she found herself in the same position.

"That's when I really and truly saw how much they suffer in this pandemic," she said.

Williams was working as a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas when her mother was admitted to a hospital in New York due to COVID-related complications. Williams flew to New York, but only being a mile from the hospital made no difference. She was not allowed into her mother's room.

"I had to wait on phone calls and release all control of my mom to someone I had never met," she said. "Although I'm in the healthcare field and understood what was going on, I still felt so helpless."

Her mother is back home now, but the experience inspired Kandace to help other families in the same position.

Williams is working toward a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing at the University of Arkansas. As one of her projects, she created a COVID ICU Communication Guide.

The communication guide includes information about the hospital unit, expectations, common equipment used and a specific section focused on communication. That section serves as a journal of sorts, where family members can add daily updates, jot down questions to ask nurses and even space to journal their feelings. The guide also simplifies medical jargon that nurses may use when they share updates about COVID patients with family.

"The goal of this guide is to improve communication and decrease stress families feel when they can't be at the bedside," she said. "I know this can't replace them being directly in the room, but I am hoping this gives them a sense of control, helps them monitor the overall progress of the patient, and have a place to put their true feelings as they come up."

The COVID communication guide will be available to families at the hospital where Kandace works by the end of this month. She plans to share the guide with other hospitals.

Williams is thrilled her U of A homework will have practical implications for patients' families as well as fellow nurses during such a difficult time in the profession.

Williams became interested in the healthcare field when her stepfather became gravely ill due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She began helping a home health nurse take care of him and took over when the nurse wasn't available — or her mom was at work.

"I would change my dad's oxygen tanks, make him food, wash his clothes when my mom couldn't, and so many other things," she said. "I loved it and was heartbroken when he passed away in 2001. I lost the man who showed me what it was really like to be loved unconditionally and I lost the ability to care so much for someone without any expectations."

Williams decided to pursue a D.N.P. degree so she could take on leadership roles in the future, practice at the highest clinical level as a nurse. She wants to focus care on the health and wellness of the whole patient rather than just the disease process they are seeking treatment.

"I want nothing more than to play a role in revolutionizing our current healthcare system to improve patient experiences," she said.

Williams added, "When choosing this route, I wanted to go as far as possible in my education to prove to myself and everyone who might look up to me that you don't have to allow your past to define your future. I might have come from a very low-income family with not much promise to be great, but that didn't stop me from accomplishing my dreams."

When Williams chose the U of A, she was traveling often and wanted to find an online program that fit into her busy lifestyle.

"The U of A gave me the ability to live life and still conquer this journey," she said. "I researched the school and saw nothing but positive feedback from current students and alumni.

"During my interview, I knew this was the school for me. The staff was interested in my resume, but more interested in me and who I was. They were so personable and genuine."

This story is the latest in a series called the Dean's Spotlight, featuring outstanding students in the College of Education and Health Professions. Visit COEHP's online magazine, the Colleague, for more news from the six units that make up the College. Visit the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing page for more information on COEHP's nursing program.


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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