By Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications
Tanesha Brown, the nurse manager at University Health Services (UHS), is a critical member of the University’s coronavirus preparedness team, working in concert with a broad range of departments and colleagues across campus.
Brown, who came to Princeton in 2013, has been a professional registered nurse since 1999. She previously worked as an emergency room nurse and nursing supervisor at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey, and a medical/surgical nurse educator at St. Luke’s University Health Network-Warren campus in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. She has taught in acute care and academic settings.
At Princeton, she continues to hone her expertise in public health. She says her interactions with students are among the most rewarding aspects of her work, bringing her insights into diversity and inclusion, patient education, and advocacy.
Brown reflects on addressing the fear of the unknown, how she practices self-care and the most important things she wants people to know during the coronavirus crisis. A condensed version of this story appears on Princeton’s Instagram as part of the #TellUsTigers series.
How has your background in emergency medicine helped you prepare for what’s happening now?
Shortly after I started at Princeton in 2013, the meningitis B outbreak began. My boss at the time, Dr. Pete Johnson, asked, “Did you ever think you would become a public health nurse?”’ Of course I didn’t. I didn’t think my job would involve so much public health. I was an ER nurse who became a nurse manager and educator. Who would’ve thought? But over the next two years I had the chance to work with the CDC and to learn about epidemiology, the spread of disease and how fearful people are of the unknown.
Working in the ER, you have to be prepared for the unknown. You have no idea what will walk through the door or when. I think it is my ER training that has assisted me in knowing what to do even when I don’t quite have all of the information. Not only what to do but how to make good decisions in times of stress and uncertainty.
As a nurse manager at UHS, how does your mindset and training kick into high gear at a time like this?
Nursing is not just a career — it is a way of life. It’s who we are. We take care of people. At Princeton, we have a lot of people to keep safe and healthy. I have children and I’d want my children to be taken care of how we take care of our University community. When I hear “outbreak” of any kind I know it’s time to jump into action. You don’t have time to be afraid.
Who does your team include and what does your work look like right now?
The University coronavirus team includes me, a physician who specializes in infectious disease and representatives from many departments across campus including, but not limited to, environmental health and safety, public safety, housing, dining, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Graduate School, communications, facilities and more. We are in constant communication with the Princeton Department of Health and Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center. Public health issues affect every single department on this campus. Even as the information changes, we stay our course. We prepare more.
Right now I carry out contact tracing and continue to educate University Health Services staff on preparedness: creating processes for different scenarios, how to triage concerned students who are staying on campus, ordering supplies and personal protective equipment so we are safe, supporting Princetonians who are away from campus, and trying my best to allay fears.
Because the information is constantly changing, there are always meetings, emails and phone calls at any given time of the day (or night). And every now and then — we sleep. However, we continue to maintain our departments and units so they continue to run smoothly. What I love about this team is how organized and collaborative we are. Our shared mission is to keep campus safe.
How do you stay informed — and, just as importantly, do you have a ritual or habit that you do that calms you or helps you keep perspective?
I check the CDC website daily and watch the news (factual and not) in order to respond to concerns from staff, students and parents. On my ride to work, I blast my music to get me ready — I love Prince, Janelle Monae and old school house music. When I need a few minutes during the day to gather my thoughts I play Candy Crush!
What are the most important things you would like to say to the University community about COVID-19?
Always wash your hands. Stay calm, we got your back. And be kind to others, smiles are free and kindness costs nothing.