Joseph Brown has been named Carroll Hospital’s Nurse of the Year, an honor bestowed on him Wednesday, the first day of National Nurses Week, which runs May 6 through May 12.
A longtime veteran of emergency services, Brown has worked on an as-needed basis at Carroll Hospital for 17 years, before retiring from his former career to work in the hospital emergency department full time in 2017.
The Times caught up with Brown to learn more about his career, his profession, and how it feels to be named Nurse of the Year in the middle of a historic challenge to nursing in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: First of all, how did you find out you were awarded this honor and how did it feel?
A: First, I am very humbled and thankful for the nomination and support from my co-workers.
It caught me by surprise. I was called to our morning briefing at 11 a.m. and I looked outside and saw my son walking across the parking lot — he’s a police officer — and as I turned around I saw the administration walking down the hall towards me and I kind of put two and two two together.
Q: How long have you been in nursing and how long have you been doing so at Carroll Hospital.
A: I have been a nurse for 18 years, I’ve been there 17 years. I have been working what’s called PRN/Registry for 17 years. I retired from Baltimore County Fire Department in 2016 as a battalion chief. I was a paramedic too.
Q: What is your role at Carroll Hospital specifically and how long have you been in that role?
A: I have been in the emergency department my entire career there. I also am what’s called the bay station coordinator to MIEMSS, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems — it coordinates activity between the hospital and the prehospital, EMS / paramedics.
Q: I have to imagine your previous career fed into that?
A: It all just worked out perfectly.
Q: That being said, why did you want to get into nursing in a hospital setting? There are a lot of other things you could have done, including just retiring altogether.
A: I am not the type of person to sit around. I have always had an interest in medicine, pre-hospital medicine, I was a paramedic. It just seemed like a nice fit as I was going through the fire service to go back and get my nursing degree, and the rest is history. I have been in the ER ever since, and I really don’t think I could work anyplace else than an emergency room.
Q: Why is that?
A: As I talk to some the doctors, every day you learn something new, and every day you learn to appreciate life a little bit more.
Q: To that point, this is an intense time for health care workers. There’s been a lot of effort to make sure health care workers are feeling appreciated. Does this award take on any extra significance for you given all that is going on with COVID-19?
A: I am just very thankful and once I accepted the award I also made sure I commented that I am accepting this award, but it also is in appreciation to all the nurses for everything they do every day. We, nursing, are being put into positions now — wearing masks all day long, wearing gowns — no other profession has ever seen this. We are all learning as we go along, but it’s very rewarding.
Q: Are there lessons you have learned along the way, surprise experiences you could not have anticipated before this historic moment for your profession?
A: It doesn’t come along and that’s thankful. I think a lot of it has to do with education. The more we can learn and understand this pandemic, or any emergency facing us, how we protect ourselves and protect and treat our patients to the best of our ability is critical.
Every nurse goes home every day and wonders whether or not they have contracted COVID and are they taking that home to their loved ones. Some of them even say they sleep in a separate bedroom just because of the unknown.
Q: What do you say to the next generation of nurses in light of this situation, whether they are just starting out in their career or a high school or college student weighing whether to join the profession?
A: I have been doing this a long time between fire, EMS and nursing. I told my staff one day, this pandemic is going to affect each one of us in a different way. Some of you will consider being a nurse, period, and leave the profession. Others may leave the emergency department or acute care setting due to the high stress volume. And others will learn and grow from this, so that if we ever experience something like this again, they are going to be the ones that will teach the younger nurses what to do, what not to do, how to deal with it.
We are all working together to get through this. And we the nurses — all nurses, not just at Carroll Hospital — appreciate the support that the community is giving us. It’s rewarding when patients leave and tell you, thank you, and please be safe.
A: Nurses and physicians are here to support the community and the people in it. If you are sick or need assistance, please come to the emergency room, because with the pandemic, some people are not coming to the emergency room and that may or may not be a good thing for them. If they are sick, we are open 24/7 and we are here to serve you.