May 14, 2020
Dustin “Dee” Tomeo, a 2013 graduate of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) nursing program, was recently named a Daisy Award winner for his service in the emergency department at Montefiore Medical Center’s Moses Division in the Bronx.
An acronym for “diseases attacking the immune system,” The DAISY Foundation was formed in November, 1999, by the family of J. Patrick Barnes who died at age 33 of complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). The nursing care Patrick received when hospitalized profoundly touched his family.
Nurses are nominated by anyone in a hospital or organization— patients, family members, other nurses, physicians, clinicians and staff—anyone who experiences or observes extraordinary compassionate care being provided by a nurse. Tomeo said receiving the award was humbling.
“We all work so hard every day and we all go above and beyond, but I also make sure that I treat my patients the way I would want my family treated in the event of sickness or emergency,” said Tomeo.
The explosion of COVID-positive cases in New York City has been especially challenging for nurses such as Tomeo. The Bronx was hit hard by the pandemic, and like many healthcare workers, Tomeo and his team experienced shortages of personal protective equipment. Although a number of nurses at city hospitals fell ill with the virus, the horrific toll COVID took on their patients became increasingly hard to bear.
“Nothing at all could have prepared us for the number of COVID-positive people who would die, just in a single shift each day,” said Tomeo. “At certain points it was as if we were all working in a morgue.”
This affected Tomeo and his coworkers emotionally because families were not allowed into the hospital—for their own protection—which left countless patients to spend their last moments with only their nurses surrounding them.
“We are exhausted every day now, but always find the strength to care for others and this is what I love most,” said Tomeo.
Emergency room nurses learn to juggle multiple tasks and the importance of prioritization, Tomeo says. He said it’s important for them to stay on top of responsibilities, because at any moment, a critical patient could arrive with anything from a cardiac arrest, respiratory distress or gun shots wounds.
“We save lives, we advocate for patients when they can’t, we are there to medicate, provide emotional support for the patient and their family, assess the symptoms,” said Tomeo. “We are intelligent, humble, loving people.”
Tomeo receives encouragement from Professor Sung Gwak
It was at BMCC that Tomeo started on the path to where he is now, working in one of the nation’s busiest emergency rooms while simultaneously pursuing a masters degree as a family nurse practitioner at Pace University.
“BMCC pushed me to my limits even if it meant working through lunch or staying late, but I knew the professors always supported me and were always available to help,” said Tomeo. “They wanted us to learn and understand the information, the nursing department and lab too, they were our biggest cheerleaders.”
But he said there is one professor who has a place in his heart forever and that is Nursing Professor Sung Gwak.
“I vividly remember the day he first came into my office to discuss his future career,” said Gwak. “After I suggested several options, I knew he would be an example of BMCC’s motto, ‘Start Here, Go Anywhere’.”
Gwak, who maintains contact with Tomeo to this day, said her former student maintains excellent interpersonal relationships in addition to his intellectual ability which all serves him well as a nurse.
“She was strict, ran a tight ship and took no nonsense, but she knew who studied hard and put in the work,” said Tomeo. “She helped prepare me for the real nursing world and pushed us all to the limits, not so we would fail but so we would be the best nurses out in the real world.”
- Dustin “Dee” Tomeo works in busy ER at Montefiore Medical Center
- Tomeo describes toll COVID pandemic took on nurses and patients
- Professor at BMCC set him on the path to success in nursing