Nursing students navigate in-person clinicals, feel pressure to keep themselves, their patients safe

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Photo Credit: Steph Sonik | Daily Texan Staff

As Lily Isbell wakes up for her shift at Dell Children’s Medical Center, she thinks of her patients, who are all under the age of 17.

“There's the pressure to abide by (COVID-19 regulations) very strictly, which, obviously, a lot of college students aren't,” nursing senior Isbell said. “I think the pressure stems from having to hold ourselves to a higher standard because we are working with other people. … You have to think about the people that you're putting at risk because of your decision.”

Isbell said if she feels sick in any way, she has to take immediate accountability and get tested before showing up for her eight-hour shift at the hospital. She said while she and other nursing students don’t interact with COVID-19 patients, her nerves are still high.  

“It's pretty stressful,” Isbell said. “We do have to force ourselves to take a step back from ‘Oh, we’re just in college, we can do (whatever we want).’”

Junior and senior nursing students have to attend in-person clinicals up to twice a week to meet their 500-hour clinical requirement and get real-life experience in the field. As they prepare to graduate, some said they feel pressure to be role models for their peers and keep their patients safe. 

“At the beginning, I was really stressed out because you get all this rhetoric about the pandemic which is rightfully justified, and it's like, ‘You shouldn't be leaving your house,’” nursing senior Marian Hamilton said. “And then right in the middle of this, (they’re) also like, ‘Yeah, but nursing students, you're (going to) go to clinicals in person still.’ … It was just a huge stressor.”

Since starting clinicals, Hamilton said she’s gotten tested regularly and follows COVID-19 regulations and guidelines to keep herself and others safe. 

 

“(It’s) a lot harder being a nursing student during COVID because a lot of us didn't want to go to clinicals,” Hamilton said. “(We) would have preferred to stay safe and stay home, but we couldn't graduate if we didn't go to clinicals.”

Hamilton said she doesn’t really interact with other nursing students anymore. She said it has been hard managing this semester without the previous camaraderie and support system of other nursing students. 

“We used to all sit and eat lunch together, but now we can't really do that anymore which is kind of sad,” Hamilton said. “For most of us, the majority of our friend group comes from other nursing majors because we spent so much time together before COVID.”

The pandemic has impressed upon nursing senior Jennifer Vaske the importance of wearing masks. She said this precaution should remain even after a vaccine is developed and the threat of COVID-19 is minimized. 

“You never know, not even (with just) COVID, if your patient is going to have the flu or stuff like that because they don't screen for that when you’re coming in,” Vaske said. “It's a small precaution to take, but it has a big impact.”

Although nursing students like Vaske, Hamilton and Isbell said they are nervous about entering the medical field amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they said they chose this career path for one main reason: to help others.

“At the end of the day, we know what we signed up for, and we know our role in society and what it’s going to be,” Isbell said. “The environment itself in the hospital is different, but (it’s) also really inspiring to be there because the nurses are so brave and competent.”