Wearing layers of personal protection equipment and sterilizing each instrument after treating COVID-19 patients became a normal part of senior nursing major Aniara Callipo’s shift at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital, where she works as a patient care nursing assistant. She was ready to start her nursing career when the pandemic first began.
“It was a mix of feelings because nurses were so much in demand and … I was already in that world, just not as an RN. … I wanted to jump in if I could have had the chance of graduating then,” she said.
With the need for more nurses at the start of the pandemic, she wanted to help.
Many nursing students, like Callipo, work in the medical field while in school. As front-line workers, they have experienced the ups and downs of the pandemic and have faced a range of emotions.
While the 150-hour clinical requirement qualifies students to take their exam with the Ohio Board of Nursing, clocking in for their shift gives them real-life experience.
“Probably 50 percent of them [nursing students] are working at some capacity in the healthcare field already. They are working as nursing aids in nursing homes, they’re nurse techs in the hospitals, they’re home health aides, so that’s impacted their work outside of class work,” said Taryn Burhanna, a lecturer and clinical instructor at Kent State.
Along with upperclassmen, freshmen and sophomore students can dive into the medical profession before applying to the College of Nursing. However, working while in school has taken on new challenges during the coronavirus.
Anna Lynd, a sophomore nursing major, works at Altercare of Western Reserve as an STNA or a state tested nursing assistant. She began working there in February of 2020, just a few weeks before the pandemic began.
“I got my STNA license at the very end of February, so I didn’t really expect the pandemic … but we just kind of jumped into it,” she said.
While working a night shift last March, Lynd was the only STNA assigned a section of two hallways, where 36 residents live. Six of her residents tested positive for the virus the next day. Because of the lack of PPE at the start of the virus, she only wore a surgical mask to protect herself and the residents.
“I was terrified for my residents because you hear of how it affects them, and even after COVID they could have very severe complications, which did happen,” she said. “It was overwhelming – very overwhelming, because nursing homes are short staffed anyway.”
While a shortage of staff stretched workers’ stamina, the process of caring for a patient became more involved.
When Callipo took care of a patient before the pandemic, it was a one-person job, but now it takes two people to treat a patient with COVID-19, she said.
“At first it was just like one or two patients that I had to put my N95 [mask on] because I was going into a COVID patient’s [room],” she said, “and then in one day, it just became every patient that I had, had COVID.”
The process not only changed when caring for a patient; it also changed for employees before they started their shift.
Sydney Veloski, a senior nursing major, works as a nursing assistant at University Hospitals. She has to take extra precautions for her patients in the oncology unit because they are immunocompromised. Washing her hands more frequently and wearing proper protection has helped everyone stay safe.
As at other hospitals, the night before Veloski works she has to fill out an online survey about any symptoms she may have, and if she passes, she is allowed to work the next day.
“This is nothing any new grad has ever experienced,” she said. “It’s kind of preparing us for the real world while we’re still in school. I’ve had to be flexible, which is really important in nursing.”
With many important areas of nursing during these challenging times, many students were reminded of why they chose to enter the field of nursing.
After being a caregiver for her grandfather during her high school years, Veloski decided to pursue nursing.
“I saw how nurses treated him in the hospital, and it was just really inspiring,” she said.
She’s not alone in her experience.
Lynd had medical problems growing up, which helped influence her decision on becoming a nurse after she saw how nurses took care of her.
But she struggles with wanting to go into nursing after all of the things she has seen and experienced throughout the past year with the pandemic, she said.
“It just makes me afraid because I see how much that nurses do have to go through and the amount of stress. …. Hopefully it will be over by the time that I’m a nurse, but if not it’s OK, we’ll get through it,” she said.
Walking through the doors of their places of employment with the uncertainty of the virus, current nursing students have gained different experiences than former nursing students.
Working in the middle of the pandemic has helped prepare Lynd to work in a hospital, she said.
Callipo watched her coworkers gain experience vary fast as recent graduates because they were treating more patients in the hospital. She quickly adapted to working under pressure, which has helped prepare her for becoming a registered nurse amid the pandemic.
Veloski felt ready to become a nurse after extensive personal protection equipment training and pandemic-related guidelines initiated during her shifts in the oncology unit.
The pandemic is a measure of the student’s resiliency, Burhanna said.
Even as many businesses were forced to shut down throughout the pandemic, those in the medical field worked continuously to treat their patients and any new ones that become afflicted with the virus.
Almost finished with her degree, Veloski graduates in May and will transition to a nursing position in the oncology unit where she currently works.
Lynd is working on her application for the College of Nursing and is reflecting on what nursing will look like when she begins her career.
“I anticipate to wear a mask still,” she said, “unless you’re vaccinated.”
Callipo graduates in August and is looking toward the future.
She interviewed for an RN position on March 11 at her place of employment and feels her experience during the pandemic will help bridge any inexperience she would normally have.
“The fact that I’m already in the hospital and know how to deal with it [COVID-19], I think the transition is going to be good,” she said. “I’m just really excited about learning everything.”
Kelly Krabill covers administration. Contact her at [email protected]