On the Front Lines: Paul Quinn, Ph.D. '13, Nursing Director in Northern New Jersey, on Treating COVID-19 Patients

April 24, 2020

Alumnus Paul Quinn shares his experience treating coronavirus patients as the director of Women and Children's Services at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

Paul Quinn (Photo courtesy of Quinn)
Paul Quinn (Photo courtesy of Quinn)


Paul Quinn (Ph.D. ’13, Nursing) is the director of Women and Children’s Services at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey. In this role, he oversees Labor and Delivery, a Level III NICU, Pediatrics, and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. 

But now Quinn’s hospital, like so many others in the region, is devoted almost completely to the care of coronavirus patients. He works alongside the 50 to 60 nurses he oversees each shift — on some days, it’s more than 100. During his nonworking hours, he strictly observes the rules of social distancing, which for health care workers includes their own families: “There’s no hugs at home. There’s no kissing your spouse. There’s no kissing your children.”

Quinn recently spoke to us from his hospital to talk about his firsthand experience of the crisis:

The Graduate Center: What is your day like?

Quinn: In my normal life, I’m a day person, and I’d be here five days a week. Our shifts are seven to seven. Now you need to start before seven, because you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know what your job will be for the day. 

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, if there’s enough staff and the day is good, we get out at five. Other days you don’t leave till 11. It can be a 16-hour day. You’ll go home, take a little rest, and come back at night.

We’ve definitely been working more, because we have to cover weekends. Some of us have worked 15 days straight. I was fortunate enough to get off Easter Sunday. I’ve had a one-day break.

GC: How are you holding up? What gets you through a 16-hour day?

Quinn: You know what gets you through the day? It’s the people you work with. I’m sure this is true of every other hospital: The nurses are inspiring. We are here to help everybody, and they need us. 

There are visitor restrictions. Patients are by themselves, and you’re all they have as a connection to the outside world. And as a connection to something healthy. That’s powerful. That keeps me coming back: I’m needed.

GC: Do you have any advice for people caring for loved ones who are sick?

Quinn: If you’re caring for someone at home, do the best you can to keep them home. If that means you have to stay up with them to give them liquids, keep an eye on them, check their temperature, keep them comfortable, do that, because the minute they go in the hospital, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s crisis mode. 

In the hospital, there are no family members present. And when you see them, it means somebody is dying or has passed away already. When you see someone in street clothes, you catch your breath, because it means somebody passed.

GC: How has your Ph.D. training helping you in your current work?

Quinn: Being a researcher in this world is very helpful. There’s so much information out there — good, bad, or whatever — and they’re relying on my ability to comb through that literature and inform my peers. Because I can very quickly access what I need, and comb through it fast, and I can spin it out into something that’s readable and shareable very quickly. 

That experience comes from having a Ph.D. It’s all because of what I learned at The Graduate Center. And having to do it for four years, and creating a dissertation that was as expansive as it was. I came out feeling like a researcher and a scientist at the same time. 

GC: What are your hopes and fears for the future?

Quinn: I fear when the world goes back to normal that people are just going to charge ahead. That they’ll misbelieve and act foolish. This might be hard in New York, but we don’t need to be on top of each other. We should have some distance. We should always be washing our hands. We should always be mindful of what we’ve touched and what our hands touch back: our faces.

We’ve also learned a big lesson: We can work from home. Going to work and punching the clock and racing to get there — rush hour should not exist. There’s no reason for it now. We can obviously function as a world without all being in the same place at 9 a.m. 

The world has paused. Let people be quiet for a bit. Give them time to reevaluate what’s important, and how to do things differently.