Nashley Harrigan, M.D. ’11, is ready when patients need her most
By Karen Doss Bowman
Photography by Peter Freed
For Nashley Harrigan, M.D. ’11, the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a defining moment. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she was understandably concerned about the safety of her relatives who still lived there. But the natural disaster sparked her interest in emergency medicine — the quake occurred just weeks after she provided volunteer medical services in Haiti with CaneShare, a student organization at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.
“I just wanted to rush back down there to help,” said Dr. Harrigan, who was then a third-year student at the Miller School. “It was so emotional because we also were looking for family members, and it was crippling to stay in the United States. At that point, I knew that I needed to be that person who can run in and help during disasters or other emergencies.”
A few weeks after the tragedy, Dr. Harrigan returned on a recovery medical mission with a local volunteer group. She helped with tasks such as triaging patients and wrapping wounds.
Nashley Harrigan, M.D. ’11
On the frontline of COVID-19
As a nocturnist emergency medicine physician at the Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, New York, Dr. Harrigan is now on the frontline of another world crisis — caring for patients with COVID-19. Her unit is the first to evaluate, intubate — if needed — and treat all COVID-19 patients when they arrive at the emergency department. When the pandemic first hit New York City in the spring, she and her staff were pushed to their limits. Most of their patients were in critical condition, and many died. Many of her team members also got sick or had to be quarantined, leaving the rest shorthanded and handling a heavier load.
As a medical student volunteering in Haiti, Dr. Harrigan wasn’t yet trained to do the “big procedures,” as she calls them. But as an attending emergency department physician during the pandemic, she’s been there to lead and encourage her team through exhausting, sometimes heart-wrenching, days.
“I made this decision in medical school to help with natural disasters, pandemics, and other crises,” said Dr. Harrington, who’s also an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “When the first COVID patients began coming through our emergency department, I knew, ‘Now it’s time.’ There were some grueling times. I’m used to dealing with high volumes of critical patients, although COVID-19 pushed me to my max. But this is what I signed up for, and this is what I trained for. I was not giving up.”
An active volunteer
When she’s not working, Dr. Harrigan enjoys exploring New York City and traveling. Currently, she volunteers to help people in her community register to vote. She also remains connected to Haiti, volunteering with Partners in Health as an attending physician and teaching emergency medicine at L’Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, which graduated its first class of emergency medicine physicians several years ago.
Dr. Harrigan credits her experience at the Miller School, particularly clinical rotations at Jackson Memorial Hospital, with preparing her for a high-intensity career in emergency medicine. The urban setting where she trained exposed her to many of the same circumstances she sees in her current practice.
“Coming to New York, it just kind of felt like home,” Dr. Harrigan said. “I was exposed to so many different circumstances and a diverse patient population. I don’t think I could have gotten any better training.”
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