There are many things a nurse can prepare for: a thirsty throat probably needs a cold glass of water. A weeping wound, a new set of bandages. A sour stomach, a bedside pan.
Each patient, different. Each situation, unique. But through proper schooling and training, skills develop and flourish – and a bright, young student begins to master one of the most important jobs in the world.
That is, until a global pandemic hits. Not many people can predict those. Especially the overwhelming impact it has on day-to-day life; the disruptions it has on routine.
Perhaps nobody at Spokane Community Colleges knows that more than fifth-quarter nursing students Sanae Adams, Zayla Zedlar, Hunter Wert and Thomas Crafts. When they first started the program, COVID-19 didn’t exist. Now it’s a part of everything they do.
“This current quarter I’m at Providence Holy Family Hospital,” said Crafts, who after graduating at the end of winter quarter plans to attend Washington State University and earn a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. “We get a rotation through the critical quick care department where a lot of COVID patients end up.”
And what he sees on those floors, in those rooms – nothing could have prepared him.
“It was a little scary at first,” he said. “We’ve been in isolation rooms before, but COVID is different. You have to trust your equipment.”
Adams, Zedlar and Wert, too, have similar experiences. While their clinicals – a major component of nursing school, where students get hands-on experience – have been in different parts of hospitals where COVID patients are typically kept, the impacts of the contagious disease can be felt just about anywhere.
Wert, who spends much of her time in the neonatal intensive care unit, where she hopes to work full-time after college, said COVID-patients take a certain level of time and care that other patients simply don’t. Chief among them is the lengthy process needed to don and discard personal protective equipment each time a nurse enters the room, which can take up to 10 minutes.
“There’s always a staffing shortage at the hospitals. Always,” she said. “And COVID has definitely exacerbated that.”
Even small decisions can have large, unforeseen consequences. Several times throughout the pandemic hospitals have limited or outright prohibited visitors from entering a COVID patient’s room.
It’s a policy founded and supported by public health, which has likely led to curbing the spread of the virus within hospitals. But it also means nurses and doctors can no longer rely on visitors and family members for medication allergies, or even helping to translate if they speak English.
“It’s kind of scary because we can’t properly assess the patient,” said Zedlar, who’s attending Boise State University online after graduating this spring. “We run into all these unfortunate situations where we can’t have visitors.”
Adams, who plans to work in cardiology in hospitals, also after graduating from Boise State University, said COVID has also impacted schoolwork, just as it has for millions of students across the country.
Namely, last spring when the virus shut down thousands of schools and colleges. Adams said the first full quarter back in the spring of 2020, many first-quarter nursing students at SCC missed valuable clinical experience.
“Every week, every two weeks when it first started, things were constantly changing,” she said. “How can new students to the program really get their bearings? I don’t think it’s the program's fault but there are some things that can improve.”
Regardless, Adams is also hopeful for the future. Especially the incoming class of nursing students.
“As a student, I sometimes feel powerless to treat and help these people, but one day we will be nurses, like grown up nurses,” she said. “And we’ll be able to help all the people we want to help. Just don’t let your fear determine your dream.”