Master of Health Administration student serves New York COVID-19 patients during pandemic
It was early March and Tanya Marie Stramel laid in bed, unable to sleep. Despite living in Las Vegas, news from New York kept her awake. The state’s coronavirus numbers continued to climb and hospitals were becoming overwhelmed, prompting Governor Andrew Cuomo to make a national plea for help. As a registered nurse, Stramel knew she needed to be on the frontlines, even though it meant leaving her husband and four children and putting herself at risk. But her mind was made up.
With the support of family and friends, Stramel coordinated with a company staffing nurses and left Vegas for Brooklyn. She was assigned to work five weeks in an office building turned emergency room, but, within 48 hours of arriving, everything changed. The entire hospital had been converted to an ICU unit—and there were patients on ventilators on every floor. Typically, there is one ICU floor or unit per hospital and no ventilators outside of that space. More ICU nurses were needed, and Stramel and others jumped in to help.
Despite the unexpected, Stramel stuck it out, staying strong to her core purpose to help care for others.
“It was definitely a shock when I walked in,” said Stramel, who, at the time, was enrolled in the University of Phoenix’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. “But nothing anybody could say or do would have stopped me at that point.”
Stramel had never liked working with ventilators, but she quickly learned to intubate patients. She put her discomfort aside because she knew it could mean the difference between life and death for the half of her patients who were on ventilators.
The working conditions were intense—12 to 14-hour shifts, six days per week. Incumbent nurses often worked 24 hours straight because of staff shortages, which made them even more grateful when Stramel came to relieve them. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. They relied on their strength as a team to get through it. They saved patients, they lost patients, they consoled family members, and they continued to rush aid wherever it was needed.
After going through this whole pandemic, it’s an even stronger feeling for me, to want to go in and make a bigger difference.
— Tanya Marie Stramel
To Stramel, overcoming these challenges and providing quality patient care reinforced her skills as a nurse.
“I realized that there’s nothing I can’t do,” She said. “I realized there’s nothing to fear because the ability was all within me.”
In the midst of it all, Stramel continued with her University of Phoenix course work. She used her studies as a catalyst to get through the emotional stress she experienced daily.
As an active learner, she thought critically about how her education could help her current situation and in other health care scenarios. This allowed her to focus on the positives rather than being despondent at the end of each day’s work.
News of Stramel’s decision to drop everything to help others and still find a way to continue her course work did not surprise Jelisa Sinn-Braswell, who has been Stramel’s academic counselor since May 2019. She said that it’s consistent with every goal Stramel has set since Sinn-Braswell has known her.
“Tanya’s very determined,” Sinn-Braswell said. “Since our first conversation, she’s always been proactive. Once she sets a goal, she won’t stop until she achieves it.”
Sinn-Braswell said she sees the Vegas-to-Brooklyn experience as part of Stramel’s commitment to her ultimate goal in administrative leadership and that she already embodies qualities that are necessary for a good leader.
“Tanya is headstrong in a way that helps her to be an effective leader,” she said. “She can make the hard decisions while also being resourceful.”
Now, back to her regular life in the “new normal,” Stramel said her experience in New York has only reinforced her calling in the healthcare field. After finishing her MHA/MBA, she intends to be a hospital administrator to make an impact on another level than she can as a nurse.
Stramel said one of the biggest takeaways from her experience was overcoming fears by facing them head-on and recognizing that she had it within her to move forward. In the same way that any element of the unknown can create fear, she suggests to others to be confident in their abilities and not stand in their own way.
“After going through this whole pandemic, it’s an even stronger feeling for me, to want to go in and make a bigger difference,” Stramel said. “The fear is literally within yourself. Then, it’s about facing it and jumping in with two feet.”