By: Kate Luce
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much everything can change in an instant. Students, no matter their major, have felt the impacts of the pandemic. Nursing students, in particular, have seen first-hand accounts of the severity of COVID-19.
While some nursing students, particularly those that are graduating, took time off work to focus on studying for their final semester. Those that were working in the hospital this past year, have been at the forefront of the pandemic.
Sara Jenkins was a nurse technician at Memorial Hospital in South Bend but left in December 2020.
“When we first started quarantine, I actually got put on-call. We had a low census. We weren’t admitting patients on our floor. At first, I was like, this was kind of nice. It was kind of like an impromptu vacation I didn’t know about. Then as the patients came in, and numbers got higher. It started to get overwhelming. A part of me dreaded going in because wearing your gown, gloves, goggles, mask, you are stifling everything on yourself. It can be very draining,” Jenkins said.
Restricting time and visitors with patients made it hard for Jenkins. She wanted to spend time with her patients, but couldn’t due to some being in isolation with COVID-19.
“You can’t be in there. You have to prioritize your time. You have to try and lump together things to do while you are in there. It’s eye-opening. It makes you reevaluate what we are doing and how to do things in the future,” Jenkins said.
Other nursing students have had hours cut and health issues during this time.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my work schedule by my hours being cut shorter, which meant less income. It also affected my health because ever since I tested positive for COVID-19, I have a stubborn cough that has not subsided. Lastly, COVID-19 has affected the time I spend with my family because my siblings and I try not to be around my parents as much to keep them as safe as possible. This is huge because we always hang out with them,” Fatima Mercado said.
With the stress of classwork, clinicals, health and lacking campus and social life, nursing students are feeling the effects of the changing landscape of what used to be.
“I would just say being taught online and not being able to have class face to face often [is hard] because that is the best way I learn as well as many other students. Another thing was rushing our clinical hours to make sure we got them done before covid cases went up,” Mercado said.
“I actually have an hour commute, so Zooms can be convenient. I mean, I can sleep in and hop on five minutes before class. Knowing I have to be somewhere gives me a little bit more purpose to get up and get ready,” Jenkins said.
Luckily, IU has advocated for clinicals to still be in person, while the majority of lectures are on Zoom. Once COVID-19 hit in the spring 2020 semester, the stance was if a place was welcoming students in clinicals, then nursing students were able to go.
“I follow a bunch of nursing groups on Facebook and Reddit, and I keep seeing people post ‘no clinicals, no clinicals’ That is such a disservice to them. It’s my time, my money, I am learning how to learn how to become the next nurse to come out there. There has been a nursing shortage for years. This pandemic has made it worse,” Jenkins said.
This nursing shortage has been brought on by nurses either retiring or being mentally strained from the pandemic itself. Compassion fatigue is a real issue with nurses, as many pick up extra shifts because coworkers are sick and an influx of patients.
“That’s actually one of my biggest fears, that it’ll wear down on me, and I’ll end up burning myself out. It’s also really highlighted self-care. That’s one of the themes that have been in this entire program because if I can’t take care of myself, how can I take care of you? So, I have definitely honed in on that better,” Jenkins said.
Self-care has been highlighted at IU South Bend’s nursing program. Particularly, the program advocates for nurse and patient ratios to be federalized. The program is teaching incoming nursing students about this problem and preparing them for the reality of nursing, especially right now.
“The more patients you give a nurse, the more unsafe it becomes for the patient. You end up splitting your time between everyone. You might end up missing something in an assessment. It’s a disservice to the people we serve, a disservice to us because I can’t be everywhere at once. I understand hospitals have to make money because if they don’t make money, I don’t make money. At what cost?” Jenkins asks.
As far as nursing students, this pandemic has taught them about life, their education, their future careers and how to best serve their patients with compassion.
For more information about the nursing program and other healthcare programs at IU South Bend, visit https://healthscience.iusb.edu/nursing/index.html