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Justin Chamberland , BSN, RN, CEN

Jonathan George

Nursing Student Justin Chamberland Answers the Call to Care

Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing student Justin Chamberland, BSN, RN, CEN, has been working on the front line of some of the hardest hit areas during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the Veterans Health Administration’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). Chamberland began his career as a paramedic, working in the ER at JFK Medical Center. Then in 2016, he joined the VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach. For the past two years, he has been pursuing his Master of Science in Nursing degree in the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) track with plans to graduate in December 2020.

Chamberland has been deployed twice this year as a result of COVID to emergency / disaster areas. DEMPS allowed him to experience critical, real-world applications of his CNL studies, teaching him firsthand to become a better educator through collaboration and understanding of new cultures and environments.

Chamberland’s two DEMPS deployments included working with the Navajo Nation in New Mexico in June and July, then serving veterans on the Big Island of Hawaii in September. His service to the Navajo Nation, which experienced an extremely high rate of COVID infection, was as an ER nurse. He helped implement infection control practices while caring for patients, as well as educated patients. The Navajo Nation was hit hard by COVID due to individuals living in multi-generational households, and lack of electricity and water. Not all members of the Nation speak English, and certain words, such as “ventilator,” for example, do not exist in their language. Also, many struggle with alcohol abuse. Chamberland was deployed to the Navajo Nation for 17 days and saw approximately 150 people per day, 75 percent of whom had COVID. Though challenging, he found his time with the Navajo Nation to be rewarding.

He was also deployed to the Big Island of Hawaii for 14 days to a state-owned veterans home. At this center, the medical team saw their first COVID patient on August 22. By September 17, a little over three weeks later, all but three of the facility’s patients either had COVID or were under investigation for having COVID, and 18 individuals had died at that time. In Hawaii, Chamberland employed his clinical nurse education skills, teaching the staff of approximately 100 clinical and non-clinical workers how to maintain good hand hygiene and properly use personal protective equipment (PPE), and provided an overview of disease transmission. Chamberland observed how the individuals he worked with really cared for their elders. He worked to teach staff members the importance of both compassionate care and self care. With 28 individuals in the center ultimately dying of COVID, he realized staff members were emotionally exhausted and needed additional strategies to help take care of themselves, as well as the people they served.

Now back at the VA Medical Center, Chamberland works on an ongoing basis developing standard operating procedures for COVID, as well as screening and testing for the virus. He has worked on the COVID-side and non-COVID-side of the ER, as well as the VA’s drive-through clinic.

“Prior to this year, I never would have thought my career and education in nursing would take me so far, both in distance and experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged nurses and all in healthcare to answer the call to care in ways we could never have imagined. In these trying times, we have seen the best of humanity shine through, and I’m grateful for this experience.” said Chamberland.