A registered nurse who worked on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, Maila Turay, CPH ’19, sees helping others as a calling. From his first days on the job, he’s proven he’s not one to back down from a challenge.
On the front lines
After graduating with a bachelor of science in nursing from Temple’s College of Public Health, Turay accepted a position in the intensive care unit at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, one of the busiest ICUs in the city.
“I pride myself on handling stress and pressure, but starting out in the ICU at Einstein was the hardest thing I ever did in my life,” Turay said. “It’s literally life and death and they need you at your best.”
So what does someone who’s earned a rare opportunity to launch their career in a big-city ICU decide to do next?
If you’re Turay, you sign up for an eight-week stint as a travel nurse at New York University Langone, a hospital at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, just as the disease is peaking in the city. And when that’s done, you follow the pandemic’s trail west for another travel nursing gig at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles.
“My goal in life,” Turay said, “is to help the most vulnerable people in their most vulnerable situations.”
Lending a hand
Working tirelessly to care for people at risk isn’t something new to him. He’s been doing it since he started as an undergraduate in Temple’s nursing program, where serving communities in need is baked into the curriculum. Turay got a taste during his Community Home rotation, a public health immersion experience shared by all nursing bachelor’s degree candidates.
While assisting at Carnell Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia, just 10 minutes from his childhood home, he helped the staff care for third, fourth and fifth graders coping with issues ranging from poor diet to bullying.
A nurse without borders
Not satisfied with only making a difference in Philadelphia, Turay—a first-generation American—next turned his attention to his ancestral home, Sierra Leone, a West African nation plagued by some of the highest infant mortality rates and lowest life expectancy in the world. In the summer after his junior year, Turay teamed up with Sheku Sillah, CPH ’20, then a student in the doctor of nursing practice program, to collect about $30,000’s worth of blood pressure cuffs, walkers, wheelchairs, gloves and other healthcare supplies and deliver them to hospitals in Sierra Leone. For two weeks, Turay and Sillah toured the country interviewing chief medical officers and learning about their greatest needs.
It was an intense, sobering and deeply rewarding trip. And Turay acknowledges that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Susan Gresko, Susan B. Dickey and other Temple nursing faculty members who pushed him to realize his vision.
“They opened my eyes and made me see that I can do whatever I want,” Turay said. “It’s one of those things that people throw around: ‘You can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish.’ But making it reality on the ground—that requires support ... I don’t know what it’s like at other universities, but here at Temple the faculty will support you.”
—By Hillel Hoffmann and Edirin Oputu