Two best friends at the front lines of COVID-19

By The Health News Team | August 12, 2020
Michelle Gibbs and Jennifer Turney

Michelle Gibbs and Jennifer Turney assist with COVID-19 education, and help build guidelines around PPE and infection control.

As classmates at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Michelle Gibbs and Jennifer Turney barely knew each other. Michelle's theatrical spirit drew her to the stage, while Jennifer's love of sports put her in an entirely different social circle.

But nursing school and fate brought these two together, forging a decades-long friendship that would eventually land them not only at
Sharp Grossmont Hospital, but also on the front lines treating patients with
COVID-19.

"When we're old and gray, reflecting on our friendship, I know we'll consider ourselves lucky for how nursing brought us together," says Jennifer. "Being a nurse isn't easy, especially right now as we lean on each other through this pandemic. But we're locked in, and there's not much that could separate us."

Humble beginnings
Michelle and Jennifer formally met at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), where they both enrolled in the nursing program. Medicine was the passion that brought them together, but they soon learned their common interests didn't end there.

"We're both Christians, and attended the same church," says Michelle. "We also had similar backgrounds, and discovered our parents went to high school together. And as an off-campus student living at home, I definitely appreciated the freedom of Jen's dorm life!"

At PLNU, the nursing path is set and doesn't offer much flexibility in terms of class choice. This gave Jennifer and Michelle the advantage of having all of their classes together. When electives were offered, they were quick to choose the same ones.

They also spent the majority of their free time "attached at the hip," balancing studies with the typical adventures of college students. "We were rarely apart," says Michelle. "We definitely had our fun, but spent a lot of time locked up in the library helping each other study."

As graduation neared, Michelle and Jennifer dreaded saying goodbye, but knew they had individual trails to blaze. Michelle entered a graduate program in Laguna Beach, and later returned to San Diego to join the Sharp HealthCare family. Jennifer stayed local and her passion for pediatrics brought her to Rady Children's Hospital, where she worked for 13 years.

Then, Jennifer heard of an opening in
Sharp Grossmont's Women's Health Center, and immediately called Michelle for advice. "The fact that Michelle was at Sharp Grossmont was a huge draw for me," she says. "She told me all the ins and outs, and really laid out a good case for me to move over. Years later, we're both loyal Sharp employees and it's nice to be back together this way."

Michelle Gibbs and Jennifer Turney, nursing school graduation

Michelle and Jennifer kicked off a long-lasting friendship while enrolled in nursing school at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Side-by-side through a pandemic
Despite working at the same hospital, Michelle and Jennifer don't see each other as much as they'd like. Jennifer is a clinical nurse specialist and Magnet Program director, and Michelle is a clinical nurse in the Pre-Anesthesia Evaluation Services (PAES) department. It took the onset of a pandemic for the two to join forces.

Back in March, when COVID-19 cases first began to ramp up, Jennifer worked with Grossmont's in-service education department to develop a program called the COVID Lead Role. The idea was to bring ancillary staff and procedural nurses together to assist with COVID-19 education and guidelines around PPE and infection control. And when the team brainstormed nurses to recruit, Michelle was the first on Jennifer's list.

"It was uncharted territory," says Jennifer. "That made it both exciting and terrifying at the same time. We had to make sure we were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, training the staff and monitoring that they were doing everything correctly. It felt a bit like a new adventure, and we were doing it together."

Having the friend connection allowed Michelle and Jennifer to lean on each other, at a time when other friends and family couldn't relate. "A lot of my friends are teachers or stay-at-home parents," Jennifer says. "None them could understand what we were facing. Even my husband would say, 'I think you should call Michelle' when I'd discuss hardships in my day."

Their ability to depend on each other was decades in the making, as it isn't just work that makes their friendship strong. They co-managed their single days, were in each other's weddings, and supported each other through having and raising kids. And when Michelle lost her father, she credits Jennifer for getting her through it.

Michelle Gibbs and Jennifery Turney, Sharp HealthCare Do No Harm Conference, San Diego

Michelle and Jennifer attended a Sharp nursing conference prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We know so much about each other," says Michelle. "Some may argue that we know too much. But for where we are in our lives, and for where we're going, it's nice to have a friend like a sister, who I know will be there for me when I need her."

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Michelle Gibbs

Contributor

Michelle Gibbs is a clinical nurse in the Pre-Anesthesia Evaluation Services (PAES) department at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

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Jennifer Turney

Contributor

Jennifer Turney is a clinical nurse specialist and Magnet Program director at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.


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