RCBC 3+1 Nursing student fields Coronavirus calls amid pandemic
Tuesday, Apr 14, 2020

Nicole Pacitti

Imagine you’re seventeen or eighteen years old. Your grandmother checks in to the hospital for a relatively routine heart surgery. However, the prognosis quickly changes, and what was initially a routine procedure turns into open-heart, double bypass surgery. 

That’s exactly what happened for Rowan College at Burlington County student Nicole Pacitti. But it also marked a critical turning point for her that led to her decision to become a nurse. 

“When the nurse came in to explain everything to us, I told her that I wanted to know everything in detail, complete with all the medical terminology. After she sat with me for 10-15 minutes, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Pacitti recalled. 

Fast forward five years and Pacitti, of Mount Laurel, never thought she’d be among those volunteering on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, she and several colleagues completed training to staff the call center at the Burlington County Health Services building. The students determine whether callers are eligible for COVID-19 testing by asking questions about symptoms, pre-existing medical conditions and living situation. 

“It was really difficult when Coronavirus first began to spread here. We were all wondering how we can help, and we initially felt stuck. When we were asked to staff the call center, it was a no-brainer, and we thought of course we’re going to contribute,” Nicole said. “Being on the frontlines of a pandemic is definitely NOT something I was expecting to experience during nursing school. I knew it would be an unforgettable few years, but this truly tops the list of unexpected events, to say the least!”

Pacitti, a junior in RCBC’s 3+1 Nursing program, transferred from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, to be closer to home. 

“I talked to nurses from different hospitals in the area and they all spoke so highly of nurses that came from our program, so I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be. I think the most memorable part of the program so far has been the friendships I have made,” Pacitti remarked. “The clinical experiences and each of my professors have all been incredible in their own right, but the friendships I have made in the last year or so have been absolutely indescribable. Nursing school is truly an experience you can't fully understand until you're in it, and it sounds so cliche, but these are the friendships I will keep forever.”  

As for the pandemic, Pacitti states that she’s more concerned about her older family members than herself right now, but she finds solace in the knowledge that there is an end in sight. 

“The one thing that keeps me sane is knowing that this will eventually end,” Pacitti said. “It’s been a weird balancing act with school, work and everything else, but it’s also given me an opportunity to work on projects I never had time for before.”

In fact, Nicole runs her own Etsy shop (all items can be found via Instagram handle @NJPDesignCo), where she sells custom keychains, tee shirts, coffee mugs and more. She encourages people to find one thing every day that makes them happy and to make time for it now more than ever. 

Regarding her experiences at the call center, Pacitti fields around 50-100 calls per day. She noted that there are many people who still don’t have a realistic understanding of what’s going on, so it feels good to offer them comfort while also educating them. 

“Seeing all the good that people are doing right now has really inspired me and has solidified the fact that this is what I really want to do,” Pacitti said. 

And what's the first thing Nicole wants to do once it's safe to resume human interaction? Visit her grandmother, and give her a big hug.