Shaped by a pandemic, nursing’s next generation prepares for careers

What is travel nursing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult landscape for nursing students. Yet, despite everything, something motivates these students to become nurses — their willingness to serve and care for others.

Three nursing students: Jorryn Parkes, a junior at Georgia College, Josephine Shia, in her final year at Emory University, and Maggie Peterson, in her final year at Kennesaw University, discuss how they feel about entering the nursing field.

“If I was entering college right now as a freshman, I don’t know if I would still have picked nursing,” Peterson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m glad I’m still going into nursing. I wouldn’t change my major now. I really like the people that I’m meeting, and being able to interact with the patients, but it’s definitely harder.”

Nurses have felt the weight of the pandemic through maxed-out hospitals and the growing nursing shortage. The current nursing situation has caused anxiety among students.

“Because of the pandemic, a lot of the underlying issues have really been brought to my attention. It makes me nervous to work in the hospital setting, considering it’s not in the best condition right now,” Parkes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It’s not very conducive to a nurse’s mental health or even physical well-being. It puts me off working in a hospital rather than like a clinic. But I know hospitals are where they really need nurses. So, I’m in this limbo because some issues were brought to light.”

“I’m still excited, but definitely scared because of burnout,” Shia told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Even just seeing the hospital setting, like seeing how the CDC has changed things and (how) it’s not really in favor of health care workers.”

Vaccine hesitancy

An analysis conducted by the CDC and published in the American Journal of Infection Control showed that, as of September 2021, 30% of health workers are unvaccinated against COVID-19. However, this number is expected to change following the Supreme Court’s decision to require vaccinations among healthcare workers who work in facilities that receive money from the federal government.

According to Peterson, some of her fellow classmates at Kennesaw State University use a medical or religious exemption to avoid getting vaccinated. She said some of her peers do not agree with vaccination mandates.

“I feel like if you want to be a nurse, you should understand and believe in the science of it,” Peterson said. “It’s okay to have worries and to be concerned. But especially in my semester right now, we’re doing pediatrics so we are going into hospitals with children under five who can’t be vaccinated. I think it’s irresponsible to let students that aren’t vaccinated into these clinical sites.”

The University System of Georgia recommends vaccines, but has not made vaccination compulsory for students, stating, “While the vaccines are safe and effective, it is an individual decision to receive one and will not be required to be a part of our campuses.”

Vaccine hesitancy poses a threat to both nursing students and all healthcare workers, making nursing a tougher climate to enter into and can extend the pandemic.

Learning through COVID-19

While there can be a lot to learn about and from COVID-19, nursing students feel they’re at a disadvantage.

Peterson discussed how her professors and nursing faculty would often talk about procedures that predated the pandemic, which contrasts what current nursing students will be facing now.

“My cohort and everyone after us don’t know really what the hospital was like before COVID. Most of us have only been in it since COVID. I feel like we have a little bit more of a limited scope that we can do since people are being way stricter because of COVID,” Peterson said.

Additionally, nursing students have to enter hospitals for their clinical placements. During their clinicals, they shadow other nurses, help patients and receive hands-on experience. Visiting various parts of the hospital, nursing students have seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic in healthcare facilities.

“I remember the first time I walked through the ICU and it was just all people on ventilators, and it was scary. But you start to think, like, it’s worse for these patients, obviously, and (you just have to do) anything that can make them feel comfortable.”

Due to increased infection rates from the omicron variant, Emory University has turned to virtual instruction for the start of the spring semester and intermittently through the pandemic.

“A lot of classes are online and personally, it’s harder to learn online. I really enjoy learning in person and because of the pandemic, I feel like we really haven’t had that opportunity as much as we could have,” Shia said.

Additionally, students may face added stress because of decreased financial support due to recent unemployment in their families and the rising inflation rate, among other factors.

“I feel like nursing school is always tough, but, especially with the pandemic, and for nursing students who don’t really have financial support from families. It’s hard to find more accommodating jobs now that are more forgiving on the schedule. So, I just think the pandemic has made more of a social and financial strain,” Parkes said.

Why nursing?

Despite all the difficulties these students face, these students still want to pursue nursing.

Peterson, Shia and Parkes find that interacting with patients motivates them to continue on their path.

“Even though I can’t do as much as a normal nurse, interacting with the patients is very rewarding, and to be able to help someone when you’re able to,” Parkes said. “If (the patients) seem lonely or, they just need someone to talk to, it’s nice to just be able to give that to them. Even if it’s grabbing them a cup of water or grabbing an extra set of blankets.”

“I like seeing the patients and I like seeing them get better,” Peterson said. “And sometimes, a doctor will come in the room and even asked me as a nursing student, ‘What’s the history of the patient, what’s going on?’ It’s nice to be able to have that relationship with the patients that doctors don’t get.”

“The moment I decided to be a nurse was definitely when I watched childbirth,” Shia said. “I shadowed a nurse in college, and then I heard the nurse say happy birthday to this baby that was just born. That really hit me, like, they really brought a person into this world.”

Passionate about caring for others, these nursing students have been empowered by the impactful nature of their careers.

“It doesn’t matter that there’s a pandemic, there are still people that need to be taken care of. I still want to be able to take care of people in any way I can,” Shia said.

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