Graduating nursing students entering grim new world

Nursing students about to graduate are facing a grim reality as they leave school and enter the health care field.

“I never envisioned this,” said one nursing student who wished to remain anonymous. “Working in the emergency department, even not as a nurse yet, I have seen death and very sad things come from illness. And I’ve learned to cope with these. But just seeing the abundance of this has been more difficult.”

Leah Johnston-Rowbotham is an educator at Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing. She’s amazed at what some of her students are already facing as technicians working in hospitals amidst COVID-19.

“They’re facing things that they might not have faced for years in their nursing profession, and now they’re facing it in a matter of days,” Johnston-Rowbotham said. “There are students that have worked without a new mask every day. I know that there’s students that have seen people die when they’ve never seen anybody die before.”

She continued, “Students have seen their own inability to give as much care as they’d want to give to a patient that they know is dying. These things are the things that have been overwhelming to them.”

And while the new reality might not be what nursing students studied for, they’re motivated to make a difference.

“There’s a little level of uncertainty for what’s to come. But I feel that we have risen to the challenge, and I feel that we, with the help of our superiors and whoever we encounter in the clinical setting, we will be able to take care of patients safety,” said Seton Hall University nursing student Lucero Gomez.

Gomez works at a pediatric urgent care center where she’s using telehealth for the first time under new patient visitation restrictions.

“I had not had any experience with telehealth; this is all new to us,” she said. “These times are very uncertain for everyone, so we don’t know if telehealth will have to continue for the rest of the year, or if this will cease. So all health care providers, I feel like, should get some knowledge on what telehealth encompasses.”

And while some are taking on new experiences, others aren’t getting some of the hands-on learning they would normally receive.

“We aren’t going to our clinicals anymore, which is I think the big thing that’s changed,” said nursing student Ryan Ailara. “So that’s been kind of difficult because we’ve been missing that experience.”

Clinicals allow students to shadow professionals in the hospital. Due to personal protective equipment, or PPE, shortages, it’s not safe for students to be there. But Rowbotham isn’t concerned.

“They’re going to find that they’ve had more clinical experience than they realize, they’ve had more situations that they can carry with them and they’re going to be alright,” she said.

Students come prepared with the skills they’ve been taught, but their desire to help is something that can’t be taught.

“It’s obviously pretty unprecedented for people in our lifetime to be going into a global pandemic like this is. It’ll definitely be interesting. I’m excited to become a part of the health care team doing all the good work that they’re doing,” Ailara said.

“I feel that now my call to be a nurse has actually been strengthened by this coronavirus, by this pandemic,” Gomez said.

They’re a new wave of heroes coming to the frontlines.