How we work now: Alumni edition

By Carly Whetter, Foundation and Alumni Relations

As COVID-19 continues to change the ways we live and work, we connected virtually with three Douglas alumni to learn how they’ve had to pivot in a time of crisis.

Marissa Bruchmann

Marissa Bruchmann

Registered Nurse, Fraser Health Authority
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (2018)

As a nurse working in Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency department – the largest in Canada – Marissa is on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Surrey Memorial is one of the only hospitals in the Lower Mainland set up for a viral issue like this because there are separate glass-enclosed rooms to treat patients,” Marissa says. “Even so, the entire department has been completely re-arranged, with multiple phases of transition to accommodate the influx of patients, separate zones for those with and without influenza-like symptoms. There are policy changes every day, and when we go in, we don’t know what’s going to be next.”

As the first point of contact in the hospital for potential COVID patients, Marissa and her colleagues have noticed ebbs and flows of traffic in the emergency department.

“At first, we were overrun by people wanting to get swabbed – many who didn’t meet the criteria. Then, weirdly, things started slowing down because people were so terrified of coming to the hospital, even when they should have,” says Marissa. “People were so scared of the virus that they’d come in too late for other issues and require critical care because of it.” 

Since the dip in trips to emergency, Marissa says the number of COVID cases are continuing to decrease, but the number of non-COVID related emergency visits are increasing again.

“People are returning to normal life after hearing the restrictions are easing. People aren’t following the rules anymore and aren’t social distancing as much, so the department is worried we could see seen another spike in cases.”

Read more: Starting a “calmversation”: how one Douglas alum is changing the face of education

Herbie Atwal

Herbie Atwal

Assistant Registrar, Douglas College
Child and Youth Care (2005)

As the Assistant Registrar, Herbie plays an important role in the management and distribution of the newly implemented Douglas College COVID-19 Emergency Fund which Douglas launched to help students affected by the pandemic.

Herbie – who has been with the College since March of this year – says the financial aid portion of his job hasn’t come naturally. “I have a background in academic advising and recruiting, so I was prepared for that side of the Student Success Advisor role,” Herbie says. “I had planned to learn the financial aid portion more gradually, but given the current pandemic, I have had a steep learning curve to ensure our students were financially supported.” 

Even so, Herbie says taking on the emergency bursary duties honours why he came back to Douglas – to help students. “I’ve been able to use my academic advising, counselling skills and ability to build rapport and relationships across the institution to help our students continue to succeed in their academics,” he says.  

“I’m seeing all the emails coming in from donors each and every day about how they want to do as much as they can to support students at Douglas,” Herbie adds. “The opportunities that they’re giving students are amazing and incredibly life-changing.”

Read more: Good grades got this student $5,000 a year in scholarships

Nicole Perron

Nicole Perron

Nurse Manager and RPN, MPA Society
Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing (2007)

As Nurse Manager at MPA Society’s Beckman House, a 21-bed mental health care home in Maple Ridge, Nicole works with her team to support client-centred rehabilitation, promoting independence and emotional well-being.  

In the wake of the pandemic, daily life at Beckman House has drastically shifted. “Our members’ world has shrunk so much. Without being able to go on group or one-on-one outings and without visitors, boredom and loneliness really influence their day-to-day lives,” Nicole says. “We’ve really had to put on our creative hats to ensure that even in our closed bubble we can promote their independence and continue supporting their wellness.”

One of the ways Nicole and her team have tried to combat these newfound changes is through the creation of their very own corner store, Beckman Mart, designed to encourage members to stick close to home. “Beckman House is close to quite a few corner stores and our members like to frequent them,” Nicole says. “We’ve started our own store, stocked with their favourite things.”

To further reduce the risk of infection that comes with exchanging cash, the Mart only accepts Beckman Bucks – Monopoly money that can be earned by completing tasks that make the house safer for members and staff, like disinfecting doorknobs.

Other activities that they’ve added to their schedule are physical distancing art groups and walks through the neighbourhood.  

Although it was hard at first, Nicole says Beckman House has adapted to this new reality well. “Everyone has faced huge hurdles, but we’ve come full circle and things are fairly baseline in this new normal now,” Nicole says. “There’s been lots of peer-to-peer education as members help each other with daily tasks and the staff has been an amazing team.”

Have you or another Douglas alum you know had to pivot in the way you work during the pandemic? We’d love to share your story. Contact us at

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