It was mid-March 2020 — the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and Merry Taheri was spending her first few weeks as the new clinical commander of Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services in a beachside parking lot. Crammed with 117 RVs, the lot was filling with people suspected of contracting COVID-19. Taheri was responsible for managing the scene.
For the next six months, Taheri worked nearly 24 hours a day as the site’s commander.
“It was chaos,” she said.
But Taheri would not be consumed by the chaos. She relied on more than 20 years of experience as an emergency room and trauma nurse, her international volunteer experience — including time spent in war-torn Afghanistan — and the leadership skills she learned while studying in UCSF’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program to persevere.
“The professors made me think outside the box, to think as a leader,” Taheri said. “It gave me a self-confidence where I felt like I could have a leadership role. It boosted my self-worth.”
Taheri (DNP ’19) would ultimately manage three Los Angeles-area COVID-19 isolation and quarantine (IQ) sites, including the 245-bed Sheraton Hotel in Pomona — the largest IQ site in the nation. She oversaw the welfare of more than 1,000 patients at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taheri hired over 300 health care professionals to staff the sites, advised on care protocols, oversaw multi-million dollar budgets and even found time to examine patients, among her many duties.
“I just jumped in and did the work,” she said. “There were times I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m running a 245-bed facility and managing over 300 staff.’ I utilized every aspect of my career, experience and what I learned in the DNP program.”
Taheri’s work did not go unnoticed. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) appointed her to the SEIU Healthcare Worker COVID Advisory Committee, which continues to advise the Biden Harris COVID Task team.
Taheri, whose father was a surgeon and whose mother was a nurse, has always valued education, and believed that returning to school to earn a DNP degree would give her the knowledge and skills to make a meaningful impact on the health of entire populations and to help advance the nursing profession. Thanks to her DNP experience and the confidence gained, she’s ready to make that impact.
“I want to use what I’ve learned to help make change at a higher level,” she said.