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Cmdr Erica Arnold

The World Health Organization designating 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse seems prescient now that we are dealing with the worst pandemic in a century, and nurses are often the first and only point of care in their communities.

“Nurses are the backbone of every health system, whether it’s performing essential services or responding to a crisis,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general, World Health Organization.

Navy Cmdr. Erica Arnold, a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, said she knew from childhood that her calling was caring for others.

“I always liked caring for people – just growing up and caring for others, and nursing seemed like a natural path for me,” she said.

Through ROTC in Villanova University, she came in her freshman year on a Navy nursing scholarship, and graduated in 2002. Her first duty station was the National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, just before the Iraq war.

This is the purpose for what I do

“I spent four years in Bethesda taking care of wounded warriors before there was a term for wounded warriors. We were just taking care of people based on the patient move requests that we got,” said Arnold.

“I think starting my nursing career taking care of those patients is the reason for all of what I do,” she said. “It was a stressful four years as a start. It was craziness. I didn’t think, being in it, how crazy it was until I looked back. I was 22, and those young Marines were my peers. I think knowing that we’re here to take care of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who are out there sacrificing so much. They’d lost so much.”

Arnold’s continued education added the skills of clinical nurse specialist, so her care has been elevated now to take care of nurses.

“It’s a unique role, because it’s taking on the mentorship of junior nurses,” said Arnold. “So they say with a CNS you have your spheres of influences. You also help develop on an organizational level, and patient care.”

Pandemic preparations

The pandemic has been stressful for all healthcare workers, but Arnold said careful planning at the hospital prepared her teams for what was to come.

“I think staff safety was of utmost importance from the beginning,” Arnold stressed. “Because my department is the bulk of inpatient care, we did a lot of work preparing for an influx of patients, cross-training people from other departments who got trained up to take care of inpatients, if needed, and people that normally work in the operating room or outpatient clinics, where demand may be expected to decline during a pandemic.”

“Being a Soldier, she makes you feel part of the team,” said 2nd Lt. All McClain, a Medical/Surgical nurse. “She makes it feel like ‘one team, one fight’, when we are getting ready to take care of patients. She’s very supportive of everything we have to contribute to the floor.”

After 18 years of military nursing Arnold said that Fort Belvoir is her first joint command, and it’s been very instructive.

“It’s great to have both the Army and Navy together, for the best practices of both worlds. The team here has been a great mix of everybody who cares so much about doing the right thing and asking the right questions.”