Kristie Houlihan ’18 earned her registered nurse license on March 10.
Ten days later, she was on the front lines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, testing those with symptoms of the virus at a drive-through site in Northern New Jersey, one of the nation’s most beleaguered hot spots for the disease.
“I enjoy working there because I know I’m helping people and I have a team behind me to go through it with me,” Houlihan said.
A community health major at SUNY Cortland, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, mother and sister, who have all worked in nursing. Houlihan entered the 15-month accelerated program at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing after graduating from Cortland.
She finished her studies in January, took the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in February and received her license in March.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using the Bergen Community College campus in Paramus, N.J., as a drive-through testing facility through at least June 1. Bergan County is the most infected county in the state, with more than 12,600 cases of coronavirus and 767 deaths.
The facility needed qualified nurses to administer COVID-19 tests. Houlihan applied and has been working there since March 20.
“My sister sent me an ad from an agency desperately looking for nurses to help with testing sites,” Houlihan said. “I thought, ‘I’m qualified and this is what I want to do.’ So I jumped in.”
Although the job was stressful at first, Houlihan is grateful to be surrounded by a team of dedicated professionals who have helped show her the ropes.
“It gets better and better every day but the first day I went, I definitely didn’t sleep much the night before,” she said. “I woke up and drove there and had a limited knowledge of what I was getting myself into on my first day as a nurse. But the people there are amazing and so well-rounded and face different obstacles every day. We go through it as a team and we’ve pretty much become a family.”
Houlihan came to SUNY Cortland originally with thoughts of becoming a physical therapist. Although she enjoyed the exercise science program, she decided to shift her major to community health before her sophomore year. She’s glad she did because courses in the Health Department helped ready her for a rigorous challenge during her time at NYU.
“I think Cortland prepared me pretty well to jump in,” she said. “I had a leg up on many of my classmates because I had so much background knowledge in health, so that really helped me.”
When the pandemic is over, Houlihan has her sights set on several possible career paths. She loves the fast pace of an emergency room but her background in community health also has her leaning toward homecare nursing or similar opportunities.
Either way, she’ll be out there serving others.
“I grew up in a family of it. I’m the fourth nurse,” she said. “My mom, my sister and my grandmother were nurses, so it’s always been in our family. For me, it’s always been about the love of giving back and being able to do whatever I can to help.”