July 21, 2020

I Just Graduated With My Master's Degree in Nursing During a Pandemic - This Is How I Feel

Young nurse wearing a face mask in a hospital

By Kathleen Gaines MSN, BA, RN, CBC

Covid-19. Are you sick of that word yet? Are you sick of the endless media coverage on TV? Are you sick of the disruption to your daily life? I am too. Trust me. 

As an ICU nurse, I am prepared for coronavirus. I’ve trained for this. I’ve studied for this. I’ve worked countless hours taking care of the sickest patients. I know how many ventilators our hospital has. I know our emergency response program if a patient is admitted with coronavirus. I know the reality of what is happening in parts of America and will continue for the foreseeable future. 

I am a realist but I am also a dreamer. Working in the ICU you become a realist, you realize that death is part of our very existence. Sometimes you become numb to it and sometimes it touches parts of you that you thought you turned off. Yes, we are great nurses but sometimes it dehumanizes us because we have to become immune to certain situations. 

So to COVID-19, I am ready. I am ready for that influx of patients, the long hours, the potential lack of supplies, and possibly being quarantined from my family. 

What I was not ready for was - the cancellation of clinicals, the cancellation of graduation ceremonies, the cancellation of normalcy. 

For the last two years I have spent thousands of hours studying, countless sleepless nights, missed birthday parties and family get-togethers, and time with loved ones I will never get back. I have put my personal life on hold in order to fulfill a professional one. But I am not the only one. I have classmates that have put starting a family on hold, others have missed vacations, worked two jobs to pay for classes, and others have given up everything to pursue a dream. 

We have taken out loans that will take years to repay and emptied our bank accounts in the pursuit of becoming a nurse or furthering our education. We’ve bought plane tickets, booked hotel rooms, and planned graduation parties. Now the future is uncertain. Thankfully I was still able to graduate but without the pomp and circumstance. Some of my classmates and colleagues were not as lucky.

Fellow nurses and nursing students were pulled from clinical sites and unable to fulfill clinical requirements. How do we make up hundreds of hours if there is nowhere to complete them? Hospitals stopped allowing students. Universities told students that they are no longer allowed in clinicals. 

This was the reality of nursing students ranging from ADNs to DNPs throughout the country.

Supposedly, SOME hospitals will allow students back in the fall. But what about those that don’t. What about students in current hotspots such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. Some nursing programs have put clinicals on hold indefinitely. 

Now don’t get me wrong - I am constantly worried about COVID-19 and have been since March. I am worried about my 70+-year-old father who has underlying health conditions, a co-worker that is battling leukemia, the 35-year-old mother of two that has metastatic breast cancer underground chemotherapy, and my neighbor’s newborn son. I worry for the children that rely on the school to receive their meals, I worry for the parents that have to stay home from work to care for their children and aren’t earning a paycheck, and I worry about the small business that can’t survive without the community. 

I haven’t seen my parents since this started because I know that I could very well be an asymptomatic carrier and infect them without ever having symptoms. As nurses, we sign up for this. We know that in times like these we have to protect our families and for now that means not seeing them except through a glass front door.  

The reality is whether we flatten the curve or the general population doesn’t heed the warnings of doctors throughout the country and it continues to spread - the psychological effects that this virus will have on an entire generation of nurses will be unparalleled. DNP and Ph.D. students that are earning terminal degrees will never have an opportunity to walk in graduation again. Thousands of first-generation college graduates throughout the country that have defeated all odds to hear their name called will never have that chance. 

Is this selfish of me to feel mad?

Is it selfish for me to be upset that my clinicals have been stopped and there is a chance I wouldn’t graduate in May? Is it selfish that I just want to hear my name called while I walk across the stage? YES! It is selfish of me. 

But I have selflessly given everything to my patients and their families over the decades. I have given them my heart. Nurses, especially ICU nurses, sacrifice meals, their bladders, and their bodies every single day. I think sometimes it’s okay to be selfish and right now I want to be mad. 

As a nurse, I am ready. As a student, my heart aches. So COVID-19 - I am done with you. I am done with the damage you have already done and will continue to do. My heart aches for those that have lost a loved one to this deadly disease or will as numbers across the country continue to rise. There are not enough I’m sorry’s, hugs, or words to soften that loss.

Flatten the curve. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask. Stay home. Please.

 Let nursing students safely return to clinicals. Our profession needs them at the bedside now more than ever. Let students walk across that stage. Let them celebrate their accomplishments. Let us have this one small victory.

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