Inside NYP: Amanda Wilson

After a close-to-home attack, this emergency department nurse is helping lead efforts to keep hospital staff safe.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts. My mom and grandmother were both nurses — I guess it runs in the family. They inspired me to become an emergency room nurse. But I didn’t want to be a nurse at all growing up until I got sick. When I was 16, I had a very rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which paralyzed me for seven weeks. I was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator, unable to breathe on my own. I could only move my eyes, so I’d communicate with nurses using a little white board. They really encouraged me. That’s when I realized how much nurses can make a difference for a patient. I decided nursing would be a good path for me to help other people as I’d been helped.

Later, I studied nursing in college and obtained a nursing student position in the emergency room where my mom worked as an RN. I worked there for two summers and really got a feel for the emergency room and fell in love with it. My mom and I bonded over catheter and IV placements and such, and it opened my eyes to the love you can have for the chaos of the emergency room.

I have now been an ER nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for eight years — it’s like a second home to me. It’s definitely not easy, and some days are a lot harder than others. But I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I truly believe that nursing is what I was meant to do.

June 14, 2017, was the worst day of my life. I had been working the night shift and was home that morning when I received a call from my dad. I thought he was calling to congratulate me — I’d passed a big test the day before. But that was not the case. He called to tell me that my mom had been attacked at work. My mom was stabbed 11 times by a patient while working in the emergency room at a small hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts. She walked herself to the trauma room, cradling her limp, lifeless arm, and collapsed in cardiac arrest. She endured two weeks in the intensive care unit, eight hours of surgery, an airway tube called a trach because he also stabbed her neck, and countless days of physical and occupational therapy. Miraculously, she survived, but she is unable to work and has not regained normal function in her left arm. Emotionally, she’s the strongest person I know. I cannot put into words how close my mom and I are. We’re best friends.

During her recovery, I was scared and angry and sad. But it didn’t truly hit me until I was faced with returning to work in the ER. It opened my eyes to the possibility of an attack happening at our hospital. And, for the first time, I was scared at work.

Soon after, I received an institution-wide email from our CEO, Dr. Steven J. Corwin, and our COO, Dr. Laura Forese, about plans to start a Zero Workplace Harm initiative to prioritize employee safety. I reached out to them; they are two people whom I look up to very much. I wasn’t sure if they had heard about my mom’s story, but I wanted to tell them how excited I was about the initiative and discuss some ideas I had. Dr. Forese replied immediately and said she’d love to meet with me. It was great to know that, as an employee, my concerns were heard. She was very open, supportive, and comforting — she even wrote a letter to my mom!

Amanda Wilson and her mother, Elise, on vacation in Prague in the Czech Republic in 2016

Not long after that, I was offered the position of staff safety nurse and asked to take the lead and start up a safety committee here in the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. I was excited and overwhelmed at the same time. I’d been a staff nurse for 10 years, but I’d never led a committee. I welcomed the opportunity. The hospital was recognizing that there needs to be a change, and I was honored to be the one to start it up in my department and get things done.

In this role, I hold open forum meetings where staff members can share their concerns, ideas, and recommendations. Healthcare safety is a rising concern, and although we can’t completely eradicate threats, we can at least create safeguards. Our ambulance bay door is now locked with a keypad for entry, and we have a high-speed scanner at the building’s main entrance, similar to what you see at an airport. We’re working on issues such as a stricter visitor policy to limit the number of people accompanying our sick patients. I’ve just had my first meeting with nursing staff from other units to get hospital-wide input and involvement on initiatives.

We’re not going to prevent everything. But I do hope that we as an institution can make our staff feel safe enough to provide the care that every patient deserves. If something were to happen, we have the expertise to respond appropriately and effectively and contain it very quickly. Healthcare safety is a national problem, and my goal is to help make NewYork-Presbyterian one of the leading safety institutions in the nation and to influence other institutions, as well. My mom is incredibly proud of me and is encouraging me to stay on it. She’s also working on some safety initiatives in Massachusetts. We’re just trying to turn a negative situation into a catalyst for change.

Amanda Wilson is a registered nurse in the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She leads the safety committee in her emergency department, one of more than a dozen such committees and numerous enhancements under the Zero Workplace Harm initiative, a program launched in 2017 to eliminate preventable employee injuries and prioritize employee safety at NewYork-Presbyterian.