Nursing students experience shift of COVID-19 through clinical practicums

The blaring of code blue alarms echoes throughout the hospital halls. Around a corner, an overflow of patients from a shortage of beds are getting bloodwork done, and nurses are running from place to place in an effort to make time for everyone. Those who are lucky enough to get beds sit alone in a dark room, unable to see family due to fear of potential exposure to COVID-19. This was the reality of many nursing students, whose first brush with work was the chaos of the pandemic.

While the Omicron variant appears to be winding down after two years of COVID, California Baptist University nursing students have had a unique training experience, being thrust into clinical practice in the midst of overcrowding, understaffing and utter uncertainty.

With protocols for safety in place, many nurses had to rush through caring for COVID patients. Marissa Merriman, second-semester nursing major, suited up in three N-95 masks and a face shield during her time working in a COVID room. She said that it was difficult dashing through patients, unable to truly be there and give the loving care of being a nurse without compromising her own safety.

“It made me feel bad because it shows that they realize that people are scared to be around them, that they even feel that with their nurses,” Merriman said. “It made me think differently and be like, ‘OK, this is a human, I want to go in and take care of him just like he’s anyone else.’”

Alayna Woolson, second-semester nursing major, noted that there are much fewer COVID rooms now at Riverside Kaiser than during her clinical practice last semester. She said that being in a hospital gave a much clearer view of the true impact of COVID at its peak. She also echoed Merriman’s frustration with not being able to give proper time to patients, observing how isolating it was.

“They’re in a room, in a bed, ventilated,” Woolson said. “Every time a nurse is in there he or she is getting meds, doing hygiene and getting vitals. And that’s it. They cluster their care, so that person only gets so much human interaction. The rest of the time they’re alone in a dark room, with the door closed and no contact with anyone. They’re just setting (them) up for death.”

Merriman also said that the nurses she has worked with are often overworked and exhausted, leaving less mental and emotional capacity to teach budding students. Olivia Dimmick, third-semester nursing major, echoed Merriman’s statement. She said that learning depends on current nurses and that it is more difficult to learn in a high-stress hospital environment.

“If I have a nurse that’s willing to teach me and let me help them, I feel like I gain so much from clinical, but when I’m assigned to a nurse that is kind of rude or just doesn’t let me do anything, I feel like I’m just walking around pointlessly for hours,” Dimmick said. “Overall though, I feel like the time I spend at clinical is super beneficial and the best time to implement what I’ve learned at school.”

However, through the turmoil of learning the skill of nursing during a pandemic, both Merriman and Woolson said they feel prepared to take on anything now, including another pandemic. They believe that things can only get easier from here.

“It’s amazing to see what has come out of it and how much people have learned,” Woolson said. “We’re going through something so traumatic — it’s definitely going to shape us for our future career. You start with the hard part and it gets better from there.”

According to the California government COVID statistics, cases began dropping steadily beginning Jan. 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are projecting a continued decrease in hospitalization numbers over the next four weeks.

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