Coping With COVID-19 Crisis: Actress-Turned-Nurse Jennifer Stone Talks About Going From ‘Wizards Of Waverly Place’ To The Frontline Of The Pandemic

Jennifer Stone Shutterstock

Editors’ Note: With full acknowledgment of the big-picture implications of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon.

Nurse by day, actress by night — if there were a movie or TV show about Jennifer Stone’s life that would be the tagline.

(L-R) Selena Gomez, Maria Canals Barrera and Jennifer Stone on “Wizards Of Waverly Place” in 2007 Mitchell Haddad/Disney/Shutterstock

For four seasons, Stone starred in the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place as the eccentric and fashionable Harper Finkle, the best friend of Selena Gomez’s Alex Russo. The show ended in 2012, after which Stone went on to study psychology. In 2013, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That changed her world, not only in her health but in her career trajectory. It was a spark that shifted her major from psychology to nursing.

Stone admitted she has always loved science — some might even call her a nerd — but that worked in her favor. Since her diabetes diagnosis, she has since graduated from nursing school and is now working in the ER at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank — though she still manages to keep one foot in acting. While on summer break from nursing school she shot the road trip drama The In-Between and then got back into her scrubs when the shoot was over.

Jennifer Stone

Stone landed her job at Providence just as the coronavirus pandemic was escalating. She knew right away that things were getting serious and were about to “hit the fan.” Being a new nurse and navigating new territory in Providence’s ER, Stone admits that some of her colleagues have a better perspective on the bigger picture when it comes to how prepared they were at the start of the pandemic, but for the most part, she said the hospital was ready.

“Our hospital has definitely been impacted as I think every healthcare facility probably has,” Stone told Deadline. “Providence has been great about planning ahead and having a lot of foresight, and after seeing what happened with New York, I think it seems to me like they got a head start on retaining PPE and staying on top of everything.”

They continue to navigate through the cases, and Stone said they are looking ahead when stay-at-home orders start to lift and things open up. “We’re preparing for another surge because we don’t know what’s going to happen as they start to loosen some of these safety measures,” she said.

There is anxiety, stress and an emotional toll that hits frontline workers that civilians probably will never experience. For Stone, she has found a way to navigate that.

“I can only speak for myself because I think every nurse and person has their own way of processing life,” she said. “I think, as a nurse you’re just hit with it a lot more upfront and to be honest, I look at it this way: During a 12-hour shift, it’s not about me. It’s about putting myself aside to help somebody else.”

She continues, “I try to stay really focused during those 12 hours to be as effective and helpful as I can and then just decompress when I get home. I’m a big fan of bubble baths, Drag Race and watching medical shows, so I could watch somebody else do it. (Laughs) I also have a really supportive family and friends that if I need to talk about it I can because you never know what’s going to hit you and what’s not going to.”

Stone shared more of her experiences about being a nurse and an actor, thoughts about how this pandemic will change the industry, and what we can do to help frontline workers.

DEADLINE: How is it balancing being a nurse and being an actor?

JENNIFER STONE: It is a double life in a way, because what sane person does these two things that are so encompassing? (laughs) I definitely have people coming out of the woodwork being like, “Hey, can you feel my leg? I have this weird thing,” or, “I have a headache. Does that mean I have COVID?” I’m like, “No, remember it’s also allergy season.” At the same time, I always have to give the disclaimer, “Go see a doctor if you’re really concerned about it.”  I always have to give that disclaimer because I’m still learning.

As far as balancing everything, it takes a lot of time management and especially having diabetes, I have to be on top of diet, exercise and sleep. As long as I’m really organized with my time, I’m able to balance it all. That’s key. Otherwise, it’s too much if you let everything get haywire but thankfully I’ve mastered keeping all the plates spinning in the air, so to speak.

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Second star to the right and straight on to…quarantine? ✨ #dadjokes #quarantinebutmakeitfashion #peterpan #secondstartotheright #vintageinspiredbyjackie #wearfigs #fabricmasks #saven95forfrontline

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DEADLINE: That being said, do you find a connection between your careers as an actor and as a nurse?

STONE: It still continues to blow my mind — all of the parallels that I have found and continue to learn about [between nursing and acting]. I’ve been an actor since the age of 6. …For so long, I’ve developed characters and just explored human nature and what makes people, people. I think it strengthens your sense of empathy and it strengthens your area of questioning of why people do what they do. It also leads me to an understanding that people are very much the same. Regardless of your background, circumstances, choices, we’re all very much the same — and acting gives you that gift.

In nursing, you come across so many different kinds of people that to be able to view people that way is such a gift. To be able to say, “I may not know what you’re going through because I personally haven’t gone through it, but I can only imagine and I’m here to listen. I’m here to empathize. I’m here with you for whatever you need me to do.” I don’t know if I would have been able to do that as effectively without being an actor.

On the flip side, understanding your body and how it works, acting can be such a physical art as well as an internal one. So to be able to understand your body and what it’s capable of and ways to manipulate it — in a healthy way of course — it just adds another layer to it. Long story short, I think being a more well-rounded person, which is something that nursing has given me, always makes you a better actor.

DEADLINE: During a this pandemic, there seems to be a misconception that hospitals are not a safe place to go and some may be afraid to go there for something non-coronavirus related.

STONE: Here’s the thing: We value our own safety as much as our patients’ safety. So we take a lot of precautions. Providence has done a great job of training us, not only in protective measures beforehand but also with COVID protective measures. It breaks my heart that patients that are having a stroke or a heart attack think they can’t come to the hospital because they’re afraid of catching something. It’s such a terrifying thought to me. I want people to know that they absolutely can still come to the hospital if they need to. It doesn’t have to be life-threatening, they can still come to the hospital because we are doing everything we can to keep everyone and ourselves safe.

DEADLINE: In all honesty, what can we do to help medical professionals like yourself and other frontline workers?

STONE: I appreciate you asking that question because I feel like there’s, especially right now, so many people seeing this as something that’s happening to them rather than something that’s happening to us. It’s happening to everybody. This is not like being in a timeout. I feel there are some people that are responding that way, which is unfortunate that they don’t have the perspective of a bigger picture. Honestly, there is so much that’s still unknown, but I think you can see with the flattening of the curve. The thing that has been helping is social distancing. It’s been sitting home. Whether you want to or not, you can’t really deny the fact that we’ve seen that that curve is flattening out because of that. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m hesitant of the floodgates opening because we’ve seen that [social distancing] has worked. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, especially with the states.

I would say take it slow. I can understand because you get cabin fever. I’ve got it too. There are ways to social distance and to not lose your mind. It’s tough because I can see where many people coming from, but at the same time just trust. Just trust and know that it’s better for the bigger picture.

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A very good friend of mine (@maiarawalsh ) pointed out to me that today is #worldhealthday . It is also the day I went from a volunteer, then a student nurse, and now an RN resident. I just hope to live up to all of the amazing healthcare providers on the front lines now as I get ready to join them. #worldhealthorganization #supportnurses #westayhereforyou❤️pleasestayhomeforus #covid2020

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DEADLINE: When quarantine starts to lift and things start to open up, how do you think people should navigate things?

STONE: I look at it like this, it’s building your stamina back up. You’ve been quarantining, it’s been working. We’ve seen that with the fact that we have had the curves been flattening, which is great. So we don’t want to go in opposite direction. I mean this exact same thing happened in 1918 when everybody got tired of quarantining and they came out in droves and they had the second rush, which was more fatal than the first.

It’s slowly building up social stamina. If you rush it then we’re just going to be right back to square one and all this work was for nothing.

DEADLINE: How do you think this will affect film and TV productions and your life as an actor?

STONE: I think the world’s going to change. I think how people relate to each other is going to be different — and I hope that some of it will be for the better. As far as Hollywood standards, I think there’s going to be more attention medically paid to hygiene and also concerns. I hope it doesn’t go into paranoia because I know artistic businesses, in general, can breed neuroses. I hope that that isn’t the case because I don’t think productivity comes from fear. More safety precautions can be taken and definitely more safety precautions to make sure cast and crew get adequate rest and nutrition, because there can be long days.

As far as an artistic standpoint, I can’t help but be affected as an actor because of nursing. Because I just see so much more of humanity than I ever saw before nursing. I’ve seen parts of humanity that I don’t know if I would have ever seen without it. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s heartbreaking and it’s a great reminder to be thankful for the things that you do have. It’s wonderful when people can heal and it’s heartbreaking when they don’t — but the thing is, it’s life. Life has its ups and downs for everyone. I think just seeing that vast array of human emotion has affected me as an actor.

DEADLINE: Frontline workers like medical professionals, first responders and other essential workers are being called heroes during this pandemic — as they should. As a nurse, how do you respond to being called a hero?

STONE: It is incredibly sweet but that word makes me really uncomfortable because I can’t stress it enough — I just graduated from nursing school in December and this is my very first nursing job. There are nurses that I have the privilege of learning from that have been doing this for years. They have been on the frontlines since the very first COVID-19 case came through the door. I am blessed to be able to help in any way that I can, but I look at the nurses that I’m learning from as the heroes. I just consider myself very blessed to have worked hard to get this skill set and to actually be able to help like they do.

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