Nursing school during a pandemic

At the onset of COVID-19, the entire Luther student body was sent home to finish the semester virtually. For junior nursing students like myself, in the midst of completing a majority of our clinical practicum at Mayo Clinic, this was tough.

By Erin Saemrow, ‘21
Luther College

At the onset of COVID-19, the entire Luther student body was sent home to finish the semester virtually. For junior nursing students like myself, in the midst of completing a majority of our clinical practicum at Mayo Clinic, this was tough. It meant delaying our first real opportunity to serve others in a professional capacity. Many students choose to study nursing at Luther because of the year spent in Rochester, Minnesota. This time is spent studying and working in a hands-on setting. It’s an exciting bridge between the academic world and the professional one, and allows nursing students to gain valuable experience. I think I can speak for my cohort, when I say it was very disappointing to have to finish our junior year – the year nursing students at Luther look forward to most – online.
The nursing department became especially creative to ensure the program could maintain as much normalcy as possible. Though clinicals and internships were cancelled, the professors adapted to the circumstances as much as possible by giving us case studies and being flexible with the amount of work assigned. But nothing could have replaced the time and experiences my peers and I were to spend in person during our clinical rotations at Mayo.

Experiencing the worst of COVID-19
When I returned to Luther for my final year, I was able to complete my senior preceptorship during September term. I was lucky in this regard, because many hospitals were no longer allowing students in clinical settings with COVID-19. I worked in the Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. During this time, I was paired to work one-on-one with a nurse for 120 hours in total. I helped them to perform care as well as complete some cares individually with their guidance. It was a bit challenging for myself, as well as my classmates, to go directly into patient care after being confined behind a computer screen for the previous six months, but all of us seemed to appreciate that we would finally be able to be in a clinical setting again.
Being in the Medical/Surgical ICU, I was able to experience firsthand how COVID-19 had affected so many lives. It was shocking and disheartening to see the detrimental effects the virus had – both of the patients suffering as well as loved ones worrying if they would make it out of the hospital. Although I could not be placed directly in the COVID section of the unit, I was assigned to many patients who were suffering repercussions of the disease. Many were trying to recover from COVID-induced heart attacks, strokes, or the virus had damaged their lungs drastically to the point where they depended heavily on the ventilator to breathe. While there were a variety of patients in the unit, most over 40 years-old, it became evident very quickly their quality of life depreciated each day on the ventilator.

Bringing public health to light
Ironically, almost half of the senior nursing class at Luther had public health class and clinical during Quarter 1 of this year. We were able to further dive into how health care disparities impact communities as well as how the pandemic has brought these drastic differences to light. Though we could not complete the usual clinicals in schools nor a home health setting, we were able to administer flu vaccines, help registered nurses in local foot clinics at the public health department, and become certified in contact tracing. Some of us even chose to help contact trace for Winneshiek County.

Almost ready for the real world
The nursing department has done well to adapt to the very unusual circumstances. Since we are unable to complete our final simulation lab course in the classroom for now, we have been utilizing a program in which our professors can manipulate a simulation online for all of us to see as well as a patient monitor that displays the patient’s vital signs.
While a global pandemic was by no means ideal or expected in my time ending at Luther, there have definitely been lessons to take from it. One is the importance of being adaptable. The nursing professors especially stress that in working as a nurse, we could have an entire agenda for our day just for it to turn into something totally different. Just as the professors had to adapt their modes of teaching, we students have had to adjust the way necessary material is learned. COVID has prepared us to become more flexible in having moving targets in regards to school, clinical and while searching for jobs. I know in my future career there will be unexpected situations where I may not know what to do, but at least I feel more prepared to think critically and creatively now more than ever about such situations.
Most importantly, COVID has reaffirmed my desire to be a nurse and serve others. This pandemic has only made it clearer how important this job is. Many healthcare professionals have risked their lives in hopes to help others keep theirs, often without necessary supplies or personnel. It has been inspiring to hear stories of perseverance and will. I feel fortunate to have been able to work alongside the staff at Abbott Northwestern in September and to be a part of a group working hard and long hours to care for patients amidst these unprecedented circumstances. Though I do not know exactly what the future holds for me, I am excited to be able to help future patients restore their health.

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