Going to Bat for Nurses

Sep 27, 2021

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PBATS and MLBTPA recognize how much nurses are hurting and still working, and that nurses need some help. I think this is a great way to help, because it encourages nurses to stay in the field and to advance professionally and become experts.

Shelby McLellan

As a California teenager, Shelby McLellan lost her father. After moving to Maryland with her mother, Shelby found a father figure and mentor in Neil Romano, former U.S. assistant secretary of the Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and current senior advisor for the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS). During McLellan’s college journey, Romano, his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Christina, were family to the nursing school student. Today, McLellan, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a DNP student and a senior clinical nurse 1 in the medical ICU at University of Maryland Medical Center.

PBATS leadership has been inspired by the dedication and resilience of front-line nurses during the pandemic and wished to “recognize their hard work while helping them advance professionally.” That prompted Romano to reach out to McLellan. Their discussion led PBATS and the Major League Baseball Team Physicians Association (MLBTPA) to contribute the funds for a program that will provide scholarships to more than 80 critical and progressive care nurses who are AACN members ready to pursue CCRN or PCCN specialty nursing certification. “Throughout the pandemic, our nurse colleagues have continually demonstrated their commitment to patients and their communities, risking their own well-being to save others. This donation is a reflection of our respect and our gratitude for their vital role,” says Steve Cohen, a member of the MLBTPA executive committee and head team physician for the Philadelphia Phillies.

McLellan discusses her role in helping make these scholarships possible and how specialty certification is more important than ever.

Please introduce yourself, where you work and a little bit about your life right now.

I’m Shelby McLellan. I work at University of Maryland Medical Center. I’ve worked in the medical intensive care unit there for six years, and I am currently a DNP student at University of Maryland School of Nursing. And, I’ve worked in a COVID biocontainment unit for the last year and a half, on my ICU.

Are you still seeing COVID patients?

Yes. We usually have anywhere from six to 10 COVID patients in our 29-bed ICU. During the first surge, COVID impacted every organ system in infected patients, and those were truly some of the sickest patients I've ever taken care of. This next round has been a little more respiratory focused, but we've seen a ton of pregnant women. As ICU nurses, we certainly are not used to taking care of labor and delivery patients.

Let's take a step back. Tell us about your journey to nursing and the intersection of nursing and baseball.

I grew up in California and always went to baseball games. My dad spent six weeks in an intensive care unit and died when I was in high school. That opened my eyes to nursing and how much it can impact people. After my dad died, my brother was stationed in the military in Maryland, so my mom decided to move us here. That's how I ended up in Maryland. I met my friend, Christina Romano in high school, and her parents, Neil and Barb, took me in and let me stay there whenever I needed to in high school and college. They helped me pay off a lot of my student loans and get a car, and just all sorts of things that you would need as a college student.

That’s beautiful. How did the association between PBATS and AACN start?

All through high school and college, I knew Neil was involved with PBATS and Major League Baseball. During the pandemic, Neil reached out and said that PBATS wanted to donate to a nursing organization, because he knows I'm a nurse and I work directly with COVID patients. Since I'm a member of AACN and I'm a certified CCRN, I thought that would be a great fit, especially since ICUs are impacted so much during COVID.

I know the impact that certified nurses have on patient care. And I know how important it is that nurses receive continuing education and stay up-to-date with best practices. Luckily, I work at a hospital that's able to pay for nurses to get certified. But I know that many places aren't, so this is a great way to make sure you have nurses providing best practice care and can be experts in their area and have help getting it paid for.

AACN offers scholarships for professional development, but this is the first time that AACN is offering scholarships for nursing certification.

I think that's fantastic! Not everyone can be a CCRN, but right now the ICUs are impacted so heavily, so I think it’s great to have nurses that can be up-to-date and provide the best care and be experts in that area. I work on a unit that has about 40% to 50% of certified nurses at any time, and I think that really impacts the care that we give to patients.

What do you tell fellow nurses who are considering pursuing certification?

I encourage them to use the resources available. Here at University of Maryland Medical Center, you get such an abundance of information along with all the resources that AACN has. So I tell them, "If you use the resources, you'll be able to do it, and then you have all of these continuing education resources afterward that you can continue to grow and learn with." And, there’s a national annual Certified Nurses Day, so they recognize all the certified nurses, which is really cool, and it’s a day to feel special and know you've done something great for patients.

MLBTPA matched PBATS’s gift so that AACN can offer even more certification scholarships — more than 80 are available now.

Oh, wow! That's fantastic! That's at least 80 nurses that can be clinical experts and deliver excellent care to patients, and have this continued abundance of resources to grow and keep up with best practices. And that is significant right now, especially when we have a lot of people that are feeling really burnt out in healthcare. It's been a very tough year, but you can feel great getting certified and like you've done something to really help patients. I think that that can boost morale. So, to have more people that feel like they're clinical experts and making a huge difference is fantastic.

We lost almost 50% of our staff to travel [nursing jobs], which really hurts morale. But those of us that have stayed continue to provide excellent care. We've really worked together, and we instill in all the new grads that we've hired that this is a great career, you get to do really great things, and there's an end to the pandemic. There's a vaccine out. Hopefully, people will get it, and hopefully, at some point, we can have just a little bit of normalcy and not so much constant go, go, go with an influx of really sick patients.

You’re also a nursing teacher. Tell us about what this pandemic has been like for new graduate nurses.

I am a teaching assistant and clinical instructor for University of Maryland School of Nursing. I see students who are very scared. They didn't get the normal clinical experience, and then they were thrown into nursing in a very chaotic time where we saw the acuity of patients that we’ve never seen before. New grads weren't really in the hospitals for clinical during school that last part of the year. But I think new grads have really stepped up. They learned a lot. They were thrown into the fire quickly and grew quickly. They're more advanced than someone like me who was a normal new grad and wasn't thrown into a fire. So I think there’s the potential to have a lot of new leaders that are going to develop earlier and change healthcare in some way.

We've certainly had many of our new grads reach out and ask, "When can I take my CCRN? When can I get certified?" A lot of them are really enthusiastic about being certified and about being leaders, and trying to learn as much as they can and be the best that they can. That definitely impacted them, having to step into positions that they certainly didn't sign up for, but being resilient and able to adapt to that.

That's encouraging to hear. And it’s so wonderful what PBATS and MLBTPA have done for nursing and how they're giving back.

Neil has already done so much for me and treated me like a daughter for so many years. So it really meant a lot that he thought about a nursing organization and then thought about me as a nurse. So that really made me feel special. PBATS and MLBTPA recognize how much nurses are hurting and still working, and that nurses need some help. I think this is a great way to help, because it encourages nurses to stay in the field and to advance professionally and become experts.

For details about AACN certification scholarships, click here.