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  • Sincerely, Southern

Nursing students get first-hand experience in fighting COVID

By Connor Stevens

Photo courtesy of Blair Rector

Frontline workers during a global health pandemic are often thought of as brave, medical professionals that are willing to risk their lives for the betterment of society, but during the COVID-19 pandemic Georgia Southern nursing students were among those frontline workers.

For students in business, communication arts, religious studies and so many other majors the questions seemed to be never ending in their future. For nursing students though, they were about to get the experience of a lifetime.

“For a nursing student the classroom teaches the brains behind all the operations,” said Catherine Priest, a nursing student at the Armstrong campus. “Being in the hospitals is where you really learn how to be a nurse.”

Priest worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah on a general floor that was repurposed into a COVID overflow unit. As a junior in the nursing program Priest had not had any experience in a hospital setting, but that did not deter her from embracing the challenge that lay ahead of her when she was assigned her position.

Going into a position believing you will be a nurse on a general surgery floor and being placed into a COVID overflow unit changes everything about your clinical. Priest detailed how wearing personal protective equipment became a normal routine for her. This equipment was required to even check up on COVID patients for their own safety and to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the hospital.

For Ally Austin, a junior nursing student at the Armstrong campus, COVID overwhelmed her clinical practices. She works on an Orthopedic and Medical Surgery floor, but is often utilized within COVID units as well.

“On any day that I come in I don’t know if I’m going to be in my normal area, or if I’ll be pulled into COVID testing and vaccine distribution,” said Austin.

That uncertainty is really the only stressful part of this strange time for Austin, as she actually prefers classes online to being in person. The ability to go back and rewatch lectures and do work at her own pace has significantly helped her learning over the last year.

Long days working in a hospital are draining for nursing students under normal circumstances. The long hours, uncertainty of how your day will go and on top of that your other classes. Add in a respiratory disease killing millions across the world, and you reach another level of stress and anxiety.

Many stories were shared by frontline workers during the peak of the pandemic last summer and last fall about their struggles of working in COVID units. Many were separated from their family for weeks on end, and lost the ability to socialize with friends. Oh, and they also were watching people suffer on a daily basis.

For nursing students, this unfortunate reality was no different. Blair Rector, a nursing student working at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah explained just how draining this job could be to someone who is after all, still just a college student.

“I really felt like I was prepared going into this role,” said Rector. “What was really difficult for me is how desperate they were for volunteers in COVID units. I had already reached the required hours, but continued to work in my free time because they were so understaffed.”

While draining, Rector certainly did not let it stop her in her clinicals, or her passion for nursing. In fact, all three nursing students are incredibly grateful for the opportunity that they received in this once in a lifetime situation.

“I believe this opportunity helped my future,” said Priest. “As a nurse, adaptability is important, and treating COVID cases is a great example of needing to adapt very quickly to save lives.”

“I went through a lot of ups and downs this semester, there was a lot to process mentally,” said Austin. “ But at the end of it I’ve come out a better nurse, and a better person because of this experience.”

“Truthfully, I am really happy about being able to be in nursing school during this pandemic,” said Rector. “I’ve learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have without the pandemic. I wouldn’t change a thing for my experience.”

This experience has given new light to this generation of nursing students, and despite the many challenges they faced, as they enter into the real world after graduation they will know they are as well equipped as anyone.

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