I became a remote nurse after 13 years of working in-person — and it's vastly improved my health and life

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I became a remote nurse after 13 years of working in-person — and it's vastly improved my health and life
Jenneh Rishe

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  • Jenneh Rishe, 36, worked as a nurse for a private practice in Los Angeles before the pandemic.
  • She left her job due to the risks associated with her chronic illnesses, including heart conditions.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Jenneh Rishe, a 36 year-old registered nurse in Los Angeles and book author. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I've been a nurse for 14 years. Going into healthcare was a given for me. I've always been very science-minded, and I'm a people person, so nursing was the perfect fit.

I have a history of chronic illnesses, endometriosis being the main one, and I was born with two heart conditions that I didn't find out about until my adult life. I had open-heart surgery to correct them in late 2019, right before the pandemic started. One of the conditions caused a nonobstructive form of coronary artery disease. Stress and inflammation can cause it to flare.

Getting COVID-19 would have been one of the worst things for me

It's a disease that affects the airways and heart, and it's highly inflammatory. I was also diagnosed with lupus in 2021, which is an autoimmune disease. I'm on steroids to treat my lupus, which suppresses my immune system — also not a great thing for COVID-19.

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Before the pandemic, I was working in internal medicine at a private practice. During the summer of 2019, I went on short-term disability through my employer because of my heart conditions. The plan was to go back once I recovered.

I ended up having to leave that job because they couldn't keep my position open for as long as I needed. I figured this might happen, and pretty early on, I let my employers know not to wait for me. Having the extra stress of a return-to-work deadline wasn't going to be in my best interest for healing.

I transitioned over to short-term disability through the state of California in September 2019, which lasts for a year.

As soon as the pandemic started, I worried about what I was going to do if my benefits ran out before it was over

The idea of working at a job with the potential of COVID-19 exposures was absolutely terrifying. I had to think outside of the box and start job searching.

I stayed in my last job for three years because I loved it and I learned a lot. As someone with chronic illnesses, it was fascinating to see the diagnosis journey for patients. My husband and I also received health insurance through my former employer.

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When I stopped working that job, I was in the middle of all these follow-ups for my heart, and we had medical bills to pay. We ended up going on COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which was a huge financial burden.

My previous employer covered 100% of our healthcare premiums. Under COBRA, we paid about $1,200 a month.

Based on our savings, my husband and I decided five months was the longest I could go without working after my benefits expired. It was getting down to the wire, and I was really stressed out.

I was taking interviews for jobs that I knew weren't the safest options

One was with the California State Department doing contact-tracing for COVID-19. It was half-hybrid, but the other half was going into convalescent homes and homeless shelters to test people. The other remote options were with health-insurance companies, which I morally don't feel very good about.

Then, I happened to go in for a blood draw during my job search. I was at a primary care practice called One Medical, which I joined as a patient in 2017 because they offered more flexible video visits and email correspondence.

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I was talking to one of the phlebotomists about how I was looking for a nursing job when she told me, "Oh, all our nurses are remote." I looked at their job postings and saw they had a position in California, so I applied and was hired in spring 2021.

I honestly couldn't have pictured a better job for me

I get to do everything from home and can work from bed on days I'm not feeling well. I have my healthcare benefits back, and my husband is covered too. I'm able to be flexible with my schedule.

When I first got hired, they asked me if I had any accommodations. As a nurse, that's the first time I'd ever been asked that. I've never had such a supportive employer.

Before, I felt really guilty that I wasn't on the frontlines with my colleagues. I knew it wasn't in my best interest, but I still felt bad. Now I get to help out with COVID-19 by trying to keep people healthy. It's been a great transition.

For people who are high risk, making decisions has been really hard

It became a lot harder when all the mitigations were taken away, because I felt like I was in this alone.

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How do I function in a society that's not interested in keeping me safe anymore? It felt like nobody cared about lives like mine.

The things that were issues during the pandemic — like access to care — were also issues before it. I hope the pandemic will help change the way we think about accessibility for the better.

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