Celebrate Caring Winner Kem Mayer (center) poses for a photo with colleagues pre-COVID-19 at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Now more than ever, Independence Blue Cross recognizes the invaluable role that nurses play in caring for our families and communities. To show our appreciation, we are honoring outstanding nurses in our region through the second annual Celebrate Caring campaign. As part of the campaign, we’re highlighting how our winners and honorees are making a difference in the community through compassion and superior care.
When Kemberly, who goes by Kem, learned she was one of five Celebrate Caring winners, she was stunned, never expecting to be singled out for something that’s clearly just who she is. “I’m always a little taken aback when people thank me for my service, especially now during this pandemic,” said Kem, a registered nurse at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. “I mean, I’m not a soldier — just a nurse with grit and a lot of heart. I look forward to showing up to save lives.”
Still she’s grateful for the opportunity to play such an important role in helping people during these unprecedented times. “Now more than ever, nurses are essential. We’re the backbone of the medical team, the eyes for the doc before they even come in the room,” she said.
Realizing a Childhood Dream
Kem has wanted to be a nurse since she was eight years old, when she busted her lip and chipped a tooth after slipping in the school bathroom. “In my mind, the school nurse who took care of me saved my life. She was so calm and reassuring. As a nurse, I try to be that calm for other people.”
A Passion for Giving Back
On her days off from the hospital, Kem is equally committed and busy helping the underserved community in North Philadelphia, where she was born and raised. “I’ve been community-driven since I was young, and I continued that into college and after I graduated. But this isn’t just my passion, it’s my coworkers’ passion, too,” she said. “One of the things that comes with being a nurse is being a giver.”
Both of the people who nominated Kem for Celebrate Caring wrote about her work to help feed the homeless, collect supplies annually for local schools, and organize donations for National Nurses Day. Kem also volunteers for Career Day at local schools and hopes she can be an inspiration. “I want little girls and boys to know that they can be a nurse and anything else they want in life,” she said.
Delivering Care and Compassion
Working on the COVID-19 designated floor has its challenges, one being not interacting as closely with her patients as she would like due to safety concerns. “I am always the one to hug my patients, hold someone’s hand. Buy a cupcake on their birthday. Now, we have to wear so much protective gear we look like astronauts when we come into their room,” she joked. “I do my best to make people know they are not alone, especially when their families can’t be there, I’m there. I treat my patients as if they are family. I wouldn’t want anyone from my family to feel alone.”
Protecting her own family is another part of working on a COVID-19 floor, including a regimented post-work safety routine. “I head straight for the shower when I get home after wiping my shoes and discarding all my work clothes at the door to be laundered separately. I don’t even hug my husband hello. But it’s ok. He’s very understanding,” she said. Kem is a newlywed, having married last November.
Kem, one of five children, is the only nurse in her immediate family. She’s part of the first generation to go to college. Her parents moved from Colombia to the United States before Kem was born, and Spanish is her native language. As the sole bilingual nurse on her cardiac floor at Einstein, that comes in handy. “I don’t act as a translator, but I definitely speak Spanish with my own patients who don’t speak much or any English,” she said. “I don’t want language to be a barrier to care.”
From what her nominators said, nothing gets in the way of Kem being the best nurse possible.
“Kemberly is a huge team player,” said Aja Olivares, Kem’s best friend who nominated her for Celebrate Caring. “I saw that the day she learned her floor was the new COVID-19 floor. I saw some nerves, but I saw determination to support her team and patients.”