KNOXVILLE, Pa. (WETM) – In celebration of Women’s History Month, 18 News is highlighting four local women who inspire, lead and forge the way for other women.
This week we meet Colleen O’Neil, a health care worker who worked on the frontlines throughout the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. She shares her experience of how she managed one of the hardest times of her career.
“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. And the last two have been the hardest,” said Colleen.
Colleen’s main role is to help families at UPMC Wellsboro, through difficult times and to develop plans for when they leave the hospital.
“People were sicker and a lot more people passing away…So we had a lot of patients that didn’t get to leave here,” she said.
Times were tough. But Colleen says the healthcare community was the best support system she could have asked for.
“No one can support a healthcare worker better than another healthcare worker…The group that I work with here is amazing,” said Colleen. “We’re a big family and so we really lean on each other through this and tried to each other and yelled to each other and that’s helped so much.”
During those days, she said it was “Day, after day, after day, of just devastation.” Colleen reminds us that even the strongest people can doubt themselves.
“I had to really go back and think, ‘What was my goal when I started this career, and, you know, am I willing to stick through it wherever this may lead,’ because everything has changed,” Colleen explained.
But what brought her back, and kept her going is thinking about her ‘why.’ Why she wanted to become a nurse, in the first place, 20 years ago.
“It was always just to be a light to other people…In what could be somebody’s worst moments… to be that one face with a smile, or to hold a hand, to just be that comfort to someone who is terrified,” said Colleen.
She says although it has been challenging and heartbreaking, it has also been a privilege, to be able to help others. Colleen brings this philosophy of helping others outside of work as well.
She volunteers at the check-in desk for the Children’s Church each week, greeting families who drop off their children.
“I love to make people feel welcome… and to be a friendly face for new families as they come in and drop the children off has been a really good thing,” said Colleen.
When asked about how she finds the time to give back to her community, she said, “People have given so much to me, that I just want to give back as well. I make it a priority, and I think that’s an important thing for everyone to do.”
Colleen also recently earned her master’s degree. Even after 20 years of being in the profession, she believes that you can never stop learning.
“A professor in nursing school told me that as a nurse, you should never stop learning. And I never have,” she said.
While it may seem like Colleen spends most of her time helping others, she makes sure to invest time in herself and her family, as well. She says that keeping a margin is important, and setting aside time to spend with her kids, her husband, and herself, is what keeps her refreshed.
“You can’t give out of an empty bucket,” she said.
At the end of the day, Colleen says, “My only job is to do my very best every day in whatever situation I’m put in.”
And to the healthcare workers, especially those that are mothers like herself, “We’re all in this together. I’m thankful to every single one out there who’s out there on the frontlines every day for this and I’m just hoping it’s gonna get better.”