MORE THAN A NURSE
A leader on the front lines of COVID-19
With his modesty and mild-mannered demeanor, one might miss a lot about Ron Estrella. One could miss how instrumental he’s been in the city’s fight against COVID-19. Or that over 25 years he’s risen through the ranks from freshman nurse to executive director of Patient Care Services, with 140 nurses in his charge. Or that he’s “a rock star, an inspiration and the epitome of what a nurse and a director should be” in the words of one of his nurses.
In short, one might miss not only the essence of Ron Estrella, but the essence of everyday extraordinary.
As a child, Estrella became very sick, and the care he received was life-altering—not just for his health, but for his life’s calling. “At the time that I felt most vulnerable, I felt the safest in the hands of that nurse,” he recalls. “I wanted to be that kind of nurse.” He’s carried that with him, body, mind and soul, ever since.
A source of comfort in crisis
Estrella oversaw the ICU floor’s preparations for the pandemic—staffing, training, establishing risk-mitigation protocols and more—and is proud of how his team members have met the challenges. He credits the strong team orientation and empathy of all his nurses, plus the ready support of leadership such as Associate Chief Nursing Officer Charles Reed and Chief Nurse Executive Tommye Austin. He downplays his own role, saying “you are only as good as the people you work with.” But his colleagues beg to differ. They point out that he worked every single day for six straight weeks just to lend a helping, comforting hand to team members and patients alike.
As most of us know by now, the frontline battle against coronavirus can take a heavy toll on hospital staff, often compounded by the fear of taking the virus home to loved ones. But stress and anxiety come with the territory of the ICU and acute care, even in the best of times. In these cases, Estrella easily swaps the hat of manager and clinician for that of teacher and mentor.
Teamwork is an act of service
“I listen to my nurses when they’re stressed or worried, and I try to impart to them that what defines our lives is our perspective. It’s not what’s happening to you, it’s how you see it and how you respond to it. Create a positive thought, a positive emotion, before every action or reaction.” An avid practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, Estrella also counsels them that “teamwork is a form of appreciation and an act of service to others” and “that doing your best at work—which is not the same as perfection—means you go home satisfied, with no regrets, sleep well, and others will feel that positive energy.”
In the ordinary awaits extraordinary
His nurses must surely radiate positive energy. Not one team member has been infected on his watch. Moreover, says Estrella, “their empathy and efficiency have improved through the crisis.”
Humble to the very end, Estrella says, “It’s the situation that magnifies ordinary to extraordinary. Because we just did what we do every day.”
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