April 16, 2020

Nursing Alum’s Empathy for Patients Shines During COVID-19 Pandemic

PBA News

Marissa Pacheco ’16 first felt a pull toward nursing when she was a 17-year-old soccer player whose severely broken, extremely bloody nose didn’t faze the nurses in the pediatric emergency room one bit.

Now, about a decade later, Pacheco is a nurse who exudes that same sense of calm to her cardiac patients hospitalized amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Pacheco tested two of the patients at her California hospital for the virus and cared for them for several days while they awaited results. She’s made it a point to spend extra time with all of her patients while their families are unable to visit. She thoroughly answers family members’ questions by phone or FaceTime.

“Being that listening ear puts them at ease,” Pacheco said. “Allowing people to talk and unpack, it makes a difference. Walking away knowing they feel a little lighter emotionally makes me feel so much better.”

Originally from Fresno, Pacheco moved back to the West Coast after she graduated from the School of Nursing in 2016. She works in the cardiac stepdown unit at a hospital in Visalia, California, in the Central Valley. She cares for patients who border on requiring the Intensive Care Unit or a lower level of care.

“You have to be very keen on watching for gradual change,” Pacheco said. “It really puts you in a position to become a better investigator at the bedside.”

She previously worked at the same hospital as an open heart surgery nurse. She is pursuing her Master of Science in Nursing through Western University of Health Sciences and plans to sit for nurse practitioner boards when she’s finished.

Pacheco demonstrated the same work ethic and humility when she was a student-athlete on the Sailfish soccer team, said Head Coach Christopher Gnehm.

“Marissa is one of those people you meet and are immediately drawn to because of their personality, will and drive,” Gnehm said. “I am not surprised that when she’s asked to be on the front lines of this battle with COVID-19, she willingly accepts the challenge and does so with joy and pride. That is just who Marissa is.”

Gnehm and his wife, Tiffany, both reached out to Pacheco to let her know they’ve been praying for her, as have other people with whom Pacheco graduated, she said. Her college roommate even mailed her an N95 mask from Florida.

Pacheco described PBA’s nursing program as “hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life” due to the academic rigor and personal care that professors have for students. Through their examples, professors prepared students for the human element of nursing.

“They really, really put us in a position to excel as nurses,” she said. “It prepares you to be not only a standout nurse but also a standout person.”

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