Battling the Unknown: Christine Bingman, DNP ’20

Christine Bingman

Graduation Year
2020
Major
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

“I decided on Chatham’s BSN-DNP program because I wanted to focus on leadership in nursing. The curriculum seemed very appropriate for the path that I was pursuing. And I made it a personal goal to have a terminal degree in nursing.”

Completing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree takes a lot of work, and it’s compounded by the fact that many students do it while continuing to work as nurses.

Now imagine that you’re doing it in the spring of 2020, with the world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. And you’re the only infection preventionist at your hospital. Such was the experience of Christine Bingman, DNP ’20, director of quality patient safety and infection prevention and unit director of the Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Northwest, a hospital of 600 staff and 174 beds located between Pittsburgh and Erie, PA.

“It was unbelievably challenging to complete my course requirements at the same time as managing a hospital and preparing for a surge of patients that were COVID-positive,” she says. “Right now, I’m not sure how I did it. But Chatham worked with me, and I value their thoughtfulness and consideration a great deal. All the professors that I had were wonderful, and their support was really meaningful to me.”  

Bingman grew up in England, moving to the United States at 16. Shortly afterward, she realized that she wanted to be a nurse. “But at that time, I was in love,” she laughs. “So I did not pursue my nursing career, because it would mean moving away. I finally earned my BSN at Duquesne University in 2005 as a non-traditional student, although I’ve worked in a hospital setting for my entire adult life.”

“I decided on Chatham’s BSN-DNP program because I wanted to focus on leadership in nursing. The curriculum seemed very appropriate for the path that I was pursuing. And I made it a personal goal to have a terminal degree in nursing.” 

Like many of us, Bingham became aware of COVID-19 in December 2019. “At the beginning, my infection prevention colleagues and I really didn’t anticipate it being a pandemic,” she says. “But once we saw cases start to pop up in Washington, we knew we were in trouble. We started really drilling down on strategies to mitigate risk right then in January, it heated up in February, and by March it was all hands on deck and it has been that way ever since.”

“We created a command center with individuals—the supply chain person, communications person, incident commander, the emergency department unit director—and had meetings every day to discuss what has occurred over the last few hours, where are we with supplies, where are we with communication—not just in the hospital per se, but with all the physician offices in the community, all the diagnostic testing centers in the community, other doctor’s offices not affiliated with UPMC that still needed help with guidance for testing, etc.”

While Bingman is part of the senior leadership team, she doesn’t shy away from patient contact. “Because the staff were very anxious about testing COVID patients, for probably about six weeks I collected the majority of the COVID specimens from patients who presented with symptoms,” she says. “But now that there’s a level of comfort, we’ve been able to transition those activities to a group of individuals who volunteered and feel comfortable with the processes. That’s been a good activity that I led and has worked out well.” 

“Sometimes it [COVID-19] weighs very heavily on me. You’re trying to ensure the safety of everyone—the patients, the employees, our visitors, and there initially was a lot of angst related to a lack of knowledge. It was really a time period in which you felt like you were repeating yourself, trying to say the same message, and at the same time you’re trying to manage your own feelings in terms of “Are we doing the right thing?” and “Is this the direction we’re supposed to head in?” Trying to make sure we stay on top of all the latest changes that were coming out—I described it as a controlled chaos. That’s one benefit of being part of a large institution. We have very, very smart people scattered all over, and it was nice to be able to share situations or concerns and then as a group come up with decisions on how best to mitigate risk for everybody.”

Bingman’s hospital had 14 COVID-19 inpatients, one of whom made a particular impact.

“This one individual—a retired Marine—was in the hospital for about 30 days. He was the only one that we had to intubate,” she says, noting that at that point, there was only a 30 percent survival rate for anyone who needed to be intubated. “It was a huge deal for us to eventually get him off of the ventilator, and then a few weeks after that, we were able to discharge him. For being very sick, he was the most pleasant patient I think I’ve ever had to care for, and when he was ready to be discharged, we arranged for our local veteran honor’s guard to march him out of the facility. It was a very special event, something the whole hospital needed, because it was such a time of controlled chaos, and the unknown, and being able to celebrate the success of being able to discharge a critically ill patient meant a lot to the staff because in one way, shape, or another, all of us were touched by him and his story.” 

Bingman finds educating staff to be the most gratifying part of her job. “The unknown can be very scary, so being able to share my knowledge, based on best practices and evidence, or knowledge from our physician experts or infectious disease experts related to COVID, is really important. Once individuals have received education on a topic, it helps them know why we have to do what we have to do.”

She has to do some other educating, too: “We’re a very poor community, with a lack of knowledge of how this virus works,” she says. “I get a lot of phone calls from community members that say ‘this is a conspiracy; this is all fake news.’ Just trying to educate the public has in itself been extremely challenging.”

Moving forward, one of the take-aways that Bingman says she has from the COVID pandemic is the importance of communication. “It’s important to make sure that the information you are sharing reaches every level of personnel. You have to deliver it in multiple forms, not just email—you have to go out and share the message verbally, because it gives you the chance to interact with the staff and bring back their concerns to the rest of the team.” 

The leadership skills Bingman learned at Chatham are coming in very handy during the pandemic, and just in time. “My message is 'Thank you to Chatham for very quickly creating virtual opportunities and allowing us to continue with our education and graduate on time',” she says. “For that I am forever grateful.”