Nursing alumna Kelci Wallace volunteers for work in coronavirus testing tent

Nursing alumna Kelci Wallace volunteers in the drive-through coronavirus testing tent. (Photo courtesy of Kelci Wallace)

Nursing alumna Kelci Wallace volunteers in the drive-through coronavirus testing tent at Christian Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Kelci Wallace)

For Kelci Wallace, the first day was the most frightening.

But as the University of Missouri–St. Louis RN to BSN alumna worked her rotations in the COVID-19 testing tent at Christian Hospital, something unexpected happened.

The fear left her. Then she started volunteering for the duty regularly.

“I was really worried about my family and about if I was going to get sick right at the very beginning,” Wallace said. “When I was really scared, I felt like, you know, I want to stay home and work from home like everybody else. But now we’ve been dealing with it and we’re doing OK with the situation. Not great obviously, but a lot better than what we all expected. So now I feel pretty good. I just kind of do my job and hope and pray that things continue to get better.”

Wallace, who graduated from the UMSL College of Nursing in 2018, had been working as a gastrointestinal nurse in Christian Hospital when the coronavirus pandemic developed. When GI procedures slowed, she became one of three nurses from her floor that volunteered to regularly work in the drive-through coronavirus testing tents.

The testing started out slowly but peaked at about 60 patients a day. Though they’d talked about the prospect of using rain ponchos if necessary, supplies of personal protective equipment never fell low enough to warrant that drastic step. Testing supplies dipped to the point where they had to switch briefly to oral tests, but she’s since resumed using the more efficient nasal tests.

Having enough supplies and seeing the case number back up to the point where GI procedures have started to resume has been positive.

“We’re not going to full-on go back to what we used to do as far as volume, but we’re kind of adding it in,” she said. “That makes me feel better, but things are going in the right direction.”

She feels that her UMSL education helped prepare her for the experience of patient care during the pandemic but also in dealing with it as a provider.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “I had great professors and learned a lot of communication. Now I’m dealing a lot with management because there’s a lot going on and there’s been a lot of communicating back and forth with our director.”

Wallace enrolled at UMSL after finishing her associate degree at Lewis and Clark Community College and worked toward her BSN while on the medical floor at Christian Hospital.

Growing up she’d wanted to become a veterinarian but allowed her mom to persuade her that nursing was the smart career choice. It didn’t take long for Wallace to realize she’d also made the right choice for herself.

“It was the skills that you learn in nursing that are really fun, and then connecting with people,” she said. “When I was a kid I was really, really shy and didn’t talk to people as much. Then I got older, started working jobs and customer service ­– nursing is a lot of customer service – so I just started to like to talk to people and make connections.”

After graduating with her BSN, Wallace continued working on the medicine floor for three years before deciding it was time to make a change and switched to GI. She quickly fell in love with procedural nursing.

Now she relishes working with her GI patients, checking them in, taking vitals, collecting specimens in a setting where she really likes the work. It reminds her every day what she enjoys about nursing.

“It’s a job where you really evolve,” Wallace said. “The longer that you do it, the more you learn, and you’re constantly learning. I work with nurses that have been a nurse for 30-plus years and they’re still saying, ‘I still love new things,’ and that’s exciting. I like the fact that there are so many jobs in nursing, so if I want to do something else I can. I like the interaction with patients. Sometimes patients can be rude, but when you get the ones that are really sweet, you really feel like you’re making a difference.”

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