Meet Jeff Salvatore, the TikTok Nurse Who Ran One of Philly’s Biggest COVID Test Sites
In person, Jeff Salvatore is a Thomas Jefferson University Hospital clinical nurse specialist. Online, he’s a dancing fiend with moves that went viral, appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the MTV VMAs as part of the self-dubbed “Swab Squad.” All in all, he’s a dedicated frontline worker who embodies what it means to be an outstanding nurse.
From March until August, Salvatore organized a team of several hundred “pool” nurses (nurses who float between hospital departments depending on need), including a team of 35 at TJUH’s drive-through COVID testing site. Together, they helped more than 15,000 patients.
His incredible efforts earned some well-deserved recognition last year from the Independence Blue Cross Celebrate Caring campaign, which highlights the contributions of local nurses. “It’s easy to come to work and wear PPE for 10-plus hours a day when he is the one leading us,” one of Salvatore’s nominators wrote.
See what one of Philly’s healthcare heroes is up to now—and then nominate a nurse in your life for this year’s Celebrate Caring initiative.
What have you been working on since the mobile testing site dissolved in August?
I have been supporting the pool nurses who have been staffing the surge ICU when it is open. Even before COVID, there’s always been a press for ICU beds. One of the things that we are seeing with COVID patients is that their stays in the ICU are typically longer, so it is causing an issue with patient throughput. Opening up this surge ICU has helped to provide some more critical care beds and allow a little bit more leniency with how many patients we can take.
What’s been the biggest highlight of the past year?
One of the highlights has definitely been, for me, that the vaccine that has been approved and is now getting distributed. It’s just a sign of hope that we are moving in the right direction. All the attention that the pool gathered while being in the parking lot with Instagram page was really exciting and fun, but we were still running on adrenaline and the reality of the weight of the pandemic hadn’t really set in. Now being here a year into it, we’re all really excited to move towards a different direction.
What inspired the “Swab Squad” to start dancing at the testing site?
The main reason we started doing the dances was to stay warm—it was a really cold March last year. We found that it was not only boosting our morale, it was also creating a bond because the pool nurses typically don’t work together. They get sent out to different units every day and work with different staff, so we’re not a traditional unit and we’re not traditional coworkers. The dancing was not only helping us physically warm up, but it was literally helping us warm up to each other. Starting the day off on a light note was not only beneficial to us. It was also beneficial to the patients because we were in a better headspace to be able to take care of them.
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What does the general public not realize about nursing?
Despite fears, concerns and any obstacles, we still show up to work. We still follow through on our post to take care of these patients because nursing is a job, yes, but I also truly believe that it’s a calling. We are proud to be nurses and we are proud to take care of our patients. One of my favorite quotes is, “To do what nobody else will do in a way that nobody else can in spite of all that we go through is to be a nurse.”
Why should people nominate nurses for Celebrate Caring in 2021?
The past year has really brought to light what the role of a nurse is. I don’t think people really understood how above and beyond nurses go on a daily basis. I would encourage everybody to nominate people because, especially this past year of working in these conditions, nurses truly deserve any and all recognition that they can get. It will help to not only encourage them but remind them why they do what they do and to continue showing up for their calling of being a nurse.
Nominate an extraordinary nurse in your life for recognition as part of the Celebrate Caring campaign. Winning nurses will receive prizes and a $2,500 donation on their behalf to the nonprofit organization of their choice. Nominations are open until March 14, 2021.This is a paid partnership between Independence Blue Cross and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio