Give me life or give me clinicals
I’ve been a nurse for 28 years, and have a background that extends from Telemetry to Psych yet have never seen the nursing field in such a state of transition as it is today. Only a war zone could measure up to this invisible enemy that’s responsible for the countless lives lost, veterans who’ve entered into early retirement, and the newest gap in NP education. Specifically, clinical training during a pandemic has forced students to decide between life and completing their clinicals to become an NP.
“Sara” was a 23-year-old NP student who went to class five days a week and did moonlight on the weekends to maintain her household. On Monday, she was at clinicals for eight hours on a unit she was told did not house patients with COVID-19. However, the staff was also unsure if any of their patients were infected. Sara continued the week, then was admitted to that same hospital on Thursday, and by Friday morning was pronounced dead from COVID-19 complications.
Now, I didn’t know her health history, when her symptoms began, or if she even had any symptoms at all. What I do know is Sara was young and vibrant with a family. And like many, she was trying to complete her degree to have a better life for herself. Otherwise, would she have gone to clinical or work with the spike in COVID-19 cases?
I even reflected a bit when I had COVID in 2020. There was nothing I would have done differently. Everything happens when it is supposed to, which brought me to the realization that NP students have major choices to make, ones which could mean life or death for them, their family, and friends. I did not have to face these obstacles five years ago when I was in NP school. I was more concerned about pronouncing medications correctly and providing the right care to my patients. My colleagues and I did not have to wear PPE unless we were working with patients infected with MRSA, TB, or the flu. As students, we never thought twice about catching such a deadly virus. The pandemic, and all that comes with it, has taught the medical community how to pivot, the importance of flexibility, and the privilege it was seeing patients discharged alive. But has this virus, which has caused so many deaths, also cramped the quality of care given because of fear? Fear is known for overtaking situations, and advanced nursing training can prepare you for many things but never the fatigue and deaths that come from a pandemic, and the pressure on schools to continue providing education.
Although clinical settings can be simulated or in a virtual classroom led by the instructor, these options are not utilized as much as they were last year. I believe NP schools should reconsider because of what happened to Sara. This is an ongoing conversation, as many do not believe the proper clinical experience can be achieved in a virtual environment. I believe it varies depending on the student and how it is implemented by the school.
Again, the question is life or clinicals? What if there are known COVID-19 patients? Can one afford to get his or her parents sick? Other considerations would be to set up a disinfecting routine for re-entering the home, leaving all portable objects outside the house, and limiting guests. Getting vaccinated is a personal decision and also an option for minimizing the complications of the virus if one contracts it.
The issues of NP students three years ago do not compare to the challenges and risks NP students face today and moving forward. I believe we are in a time where we are equipped with the resources to better care for our patients, make split-second decisions, and maintain team morale. I commend the diligence in higher learning, the tenacity of students to push forward, and their ability to balance all of that and succeed. Completing an NP degree at this time is no small feat. Give yourself a round of applause and take mental health breaks as needed. But keep going, you are needed!