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Caregivers bring out smiles from underneath masked faces

'Caregiver Smiles' encourages medical professionals to post pictures of themselves in patient rooms

MINNEAPOLIS — No one goes into nursing to cover up their smiles or shield themselves from patient contact.

Certainly not Sheila Kingston.

“As I was in the rooms with patients I started thinking, ‘Gosh, all they can see is my eyes here,” Kingston said.

COVID-19 protocols now require the registered nurse at University of Minnesota Medical Center to be masked, shielded and gowned – creating a barrier, real or perceived, between Kingston and her patients.

She values the protection but doesn’t like the feeling. “I think it'd be kind of scary looking,” Kingston said.

She recalled a picture she'd seen on the internet of masked Israeli doctors with their photos attached to their protective gear.

So, Kingston blew up her photo badge large enough that patients – some of them battling COVID-19 – could see her smile across the room.

“I leave that picture on the wall for the whole shift and the next day I bring it in again” Kingston said. “We’re human and they’re human and I want them to feel like we’re connected.”

Kingston was onto something.

“We're calling it Caregiver Smiles,” Jenn DeWald, director of nursing at the U of M Medical Center emergency department says.

DeWald, a registered nurse, is spreading the idea through the M Health Fairview system, including Bethesda Hospital, a dedicated COVID-19 care facility.

There, and at other M Health locations, nurses, doctors and other medical staff are wearing, and posting in their patients' rooms, pictures of their smiling faces.

“I strongly feel that our patients deserve to see who's taking care of them and that we make connection,” DeWald said.

Both nurses say those sorts of connections are even more important now that most visitors, including family members, are prohibited.

Kingston say she worries most about vulnerable patients who struggle to understand what’s going on and why family can’t be near.

“I want people to know that we're here, we'll be with them, and they're not alone,” Kingston said.  

DeWald hopes the idea spreads beyond M Health Fairview to the entire Twin Cities healthcare community.

We can use a few more smiles.  

“And hope,” she says. “We need hope.”

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