Samantha Phillips, '17

On Ball State’s Day of Beneficence on May 20, the Ball State Alumni Association tweeted out shining examples of Cardinals making a difference in their communities and across the globe.

Among those recognized was nursing alumna Samantha Phillips, ’17, who shared a remarkable story of Beneficence in action. It begins early in the COVID-19 crisis.

A registered nurse, Phillips lives in El Paso, Texas, with her husband, Trevor, and son, Carson. El Paso was not hit nearly as hard as other U.S. cities by the pandemic. 

She worked 84-hour weeks at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn.

Phillips watched news reports on how mass outbreaks of the virus in New York City and other densely populated had driven health care systems to a crisis point.

I felt my heart pulling for me to go and help. I couldn’t guiltlessly sit idly by when I knew I could be of assistance.

So she said goodbyes to her family in March and traveled 2,190 miles from her El Paso home to Coney Island Hospital, a public hospital located in New York City’s Brooklyn borough.

For the next 41 days, Phillips worked 84-hour weeks with only four days off the entire time.

Adapt and overcome

On April 28, Coney Island Hospital marked the milestone of discharging its 500th COVID-19 patient. Phillips had helped treat many of those patients in the hospital’s ER, as well as a makeshift COVID ICU that was staged out of a shut-down post-anesthesia care unit.

Early in the crisis, the hospital ran out of oxygen and IV medication pumps, forcing Phillips and her colleagues to take all of their patients off of nasal cannula oxygen “to conserve the little we had left for patients on ventilators and BiPAP machines.”

Another challenge: “Our medications and treatment plans changed daily for the patients with COVID-19.”

“We couldn’t just say ‘I don’t know what to do’ when presented with these problems. We had to adapt and overcome. These are the moments that nursing school attempts to prepare you for.’”

Indeed, her math abilities honed in Ball State’s School of Nursing prepared her to titrate potentially harmful medications by counting drop rates. Normally, a mechanical pump would do that—but the hospital was out of pumps.

“I am especially grateful for the math exams we had every semester of nursing school. I never, in a million years, thought I would say that statement, but after experiencing what I did in NYC those tests helped me tremendously.”

Building a strong foundation

During high school, as a single mom raising her son with help from her parents, she juggled motherhood with academics and extracurriculars. Receiving an Emens Leadership Scholarship to attend Ball State, she was active in her sorority and served as president of her nursing class.

Phillips raised her son, Carson, while excelling in high school. Here, the two are shown at Ball State Commencement. She served as president of her School of Nursing class.

My professors at Ball State were always so encouraging. They created a strong foundation for me to build on as a professional, and without that I am not sure I would have been confident enough to even attempt to go out and try to work in this crisis.

As of April 30, more than 41,000 New Yorkers had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and an estimated 12,571 died. But by the time Phillips departed in May, the number of reported cases had begun to decline in the city.

After returning to El Paso, she began to process the experience. “Everything in those six weeks had happened so quickly. After returning home, I finally had time to go back and replay situations, deaths, and patients in my mind. It made me constantly think if there was something else we could have or should have done.”

Raw emotions

While healing from still raw emotions, she also realized the experience helped her grow in many ways. “I find I’ve become more patient over time. My time in NYC reinforced not letting the little things bother me. There were so many ‘big things’ out of my control, and I had to learn to adapt and overcome them.”

Beneficence is something Phillips plans to continue to practice in her life, and she encourages Ball State nursing students to embrace those values in serving their family, profession, and community.

“Even as you gain experience, never say no to assisting someone else or viewing a procedure. You can be valuable in any situation—even if it is something you’ve never done before. Never be afraid to ask questions or learn something new.

“You can make a difference in the lives of others.”

The Coney Island Hospital COVID-19 team was grateful for Phillips’ camaraderie and her skillful treatment of patients, often working with a shortage of critical supplies such as oxygen and IV pumps.

Molly Marie Ellenberger contributed to this article. She is a communications student intern for the Ball State University Foundation.

More Frontline Stories: Follow the Ball State School of Nursing at @ballstatenursing for more stories on healthcare alumni making a difference.