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By Bobby Hundley, UNC Health Foundation

As a clinical care and NICU night shift nurse at the UNC REX Women’s Center, Nicole Proctor has seen firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her patients and their families. She’s also experienced the toll the outbreak has taken on the physical and mental health of her colleagues.

And so the Triangle native who has been at UNC REX since 2016 has begun to use her skills beyond the clinic to make the world a little brighter for everyone entering the Women’s Center.

“I’ve always been kind of crafty,” Proctor says. “Chalking at our house with my kids kind of sparked the idea. So one afternoon, I just took some chalk with me to work and decided I would doodle on the sidewalk and see what would happen.”

Nicole Proctor poses with some of her chalk art at UNC REX.
Nicole Proctor has been a clinical care nurse at UNC REX since 2016.

What happened has turned the secluded entryway into the Women’s Clinic into an area of hope and inspiration. The brightly colored chalk art features drawings and inspirational phrases that have been a hit for patients and employees alike.

“It’s a little morale boost,” Proctor says. “We are all concerned about the patients, but we are concerned about ourselves as well. It’s just a positive pat on the back to say that you are doing a good job and you are important.”

Purposefully working during off-times to avoid detection early on, Proctor has since been “busted” by curious co-workers. The art has drawn the attention of many colleagues, including fellow clinical care nurse Darlene Horne.

“It’s been nice having the chalk art in front of our area of the building,” Horne says. “There’s focus on the other side of the hospital – we’re a little bit smaller and off to the back – it was nice to have somebody on our side doing something for us.”

Horne was compelled to join Proctor for a recent chalking session and has seen an immediate reaction from her co-workers. “Oh, they loved it. They loved it. Most recently, when we were out there, people stop and talk about it, they make suggestions (for future drawings).”

Like all front-line employees during the pandemic, both Proctor and Horne have been forced to adapt to the challenges produced by new protocols and visitor restrictions, something that is especially difficult for new mothers. But they have been quick to find positives as well.

“We’ve created this new bond with these parents that you might not have created before,” Proctor says. “That one-on-one care that sometimes you miss because there’s other people in the room, you’ve become that support person for that mother that she doesn’t have during this. We’ve definitely picked up some new skill sets that we might have missed if we didn’t have that opportunity.”

As life with COVID-19 becomes more normal for us all, Proctor is continuing to spread joy with her chalk art. She’s even gotten donations of chalk from co-workers after online prices spiked due to families staying at home.

“A lot of people come directly and tell me ‘thank you so much, it means a lot’. And it does mean a lot, it makes me happy that I can share it. To share some encouragement, it’s bright and it’s fun and it makes you happy.”

For REX nursing supervisor Jessica Collins, it’s an impact that carries into the clinic as well.

“As a valued member of the NICU team, Nicole’s passion for creating an environment that promotes teamwork and an exceptional patient experience is evident in her practice every shift. Her willingness to uplift others during her time off makes her an unparalleled superstar.”

The COVID-19 Response Fund provides financial support for front-line workers across the UNC Health system. For more information and to donate, click here.

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