June 25, 2020

Class of 2020: New nurses talk about what it's like graduating during a pandemic

Four new alumni nurses tell us how COVID-19 has changed their final year and what they're planning to do after graduation
Nursing graduates
Nursing graduates

What is it like to graduate during a pandemic? We reached out to UCalgary Nursing students to ask. This is the second article of a two-part series in which nursing students at UCalgary share, in their own words, what they’re experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic and what their plans are for their future.

Jennifer Bohn, Graduate Nurse BN’20, UCalgary Nursing
She plans to work as a registered nurse with a focus in mental health.

“Like many, I did not anticipate how quickly the world would change due to COVID-19 and found my future transformed over what seemed like overnight. Before the end of my practicum, I was notified that my hours would be reduced and the upcoming events I had planned for were cancelled or postponed.

The uncertainty of the entire situation was difficult for me to handle. My original plan had been to stay in Calgary until May before moving to Vancouver to start work as a new grad nurse. Instead, however, I found myself relocating to Creston, B.C. to isolate with my family.

I faced a lot of personal guilt and shame about my decision. I felt privileged to be able to spend time with my family while painfully and gratefully aware of the numerous others that were suffering, particularly frontline employees in high-risk environments providing care and necessary services. Additionally, I have become acutely aware of others suffering during this time: increases in domestic abuse, financial strain, and mental health issues are just some of the many arising issues.

With an increased empathy for those struggling, I have been less than kind to myself. I’ve relentlessly pushed myself to understand what my role as a new grad is in the pandemic. My personal decision has been to spend my time studying for the NCLEX while browsing job opportunities and managing my own health.

On this route, I’ve felt cowardly watching my classmates jump straight into work to actively combat COVID-19. However, I know deciding to protect my mental health during a time of high uncertainty was the right choice for myself. Being a strong campaigner, I plan on using this time to reflect on how to continue promoting upstream intervention and health equity as I continue in my career.”

Jennifer Bohn

Jennifer Bohn

Abhilasha Gupta, Graduate Nurse BN’20, UCalgary Nursing
She hopes to work as a registered nurse on a cardiology unit. 

“Upon entering my final term, I was excited to commence practicum work in the medical cardiology unit because I aspired to further my professional career in cardiology soon after my practicum ended. However, that linear goal of mine changed midway through my preceptorship when the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread. 

Gradually, as the number of positive cases within Calgary hospitals increased, drastic precautions were taken to maintain the safety of working students. Part of this safety response involved the reduction of practicum hours to be completed at which point I was four hours away from finishing my degree.

Finishing my last clinical shift as a student nurse felt surreal and abrupt; I inevitably felt an undertone of discontent in the conclusion of this chapter of my life. However, all the negative emotions I felt dissipated in the recollection of my time working within the unit.

I was privileged to have been able to work under an amazing and knowledgeable preceptor who was genuinely invested in my professional growth as a student nurse. The most regrettable part of how my preceptorship ended was knowing how much more I could have learned from this team.

Quarantining and safely distancing at home provided me with ample time to kickstart my nursing career; however, this posed to be a difficult feat in light of the economic recession caused by the pandemic. My focus shifted instead to formulating strategies to aid the vulnerable people in my life, namely my grandparents. Considering that older adults are predisposed to be at an increased risk, I was naturally concerned about my grandparents’ well-being as they live in a densely populated area in India.

Despite the significant physical distance between us, I resolved to implement a yoga routine with my grandparents over video call with the aim to promote healthy practices into their lives. With great success, this routine has continued for several weeks and I have observed significant changes in my grandparents’ overall health as well as my own.”

Abhilasha Gupta

Abhilasha Gupta

Hailee Crawford, Graduate Nurse BN’20, UCalgary Nursing
She works with the homeless population at Calgary’s Assisted Self Isolation Site.

“I have established a new normal for myself. This pandemic has reminded me to stay positive despite the circumstances we might be going through. 

I have always been drawn to others, not necessarily certain people themselves but human connection. Now that I’ve graduated, in a pandemic no less, I’ve come to the conclusion that nursing in a lot of ways is about pushing the practical in a role that bridges investigation with intervention and connects trial and error with miracles. 

To be honest, in the very early days of COVID-19 I wasn’t scared, which was naïve. Having lived abroad over this past summer and seeing the horrible effects of Ebola, COVID-19 didn’t sound very awful in comparison but I would come to be proven wrong.

Looking back, because of COVID-19, I encountered many unique moments that would alter the course of my career and my anticipated trajectory of finishing my clinical hours, passing my NCLEX, finding a casual job in the hospital, and walking the stage. 

I received an email indicating I had completed the practice hours requirement for my final focus (about 80 hours short of what I expected), listened to what seemed like never-ending press conferences and bad news from COVID-ridden nations, went from zero to three jobs, passed the now-shortened NCLEX exam and became a registered nurse myself. Crazy is the only way I can really describe this spring.

Currently, I am working at Calgary’s Assisted Self Isolation Site (ASIS) which works to house homeless and vulnerable persons from Calgary and the surrounding area who are not able to isolate or safely recover from COVID-19 due to a variety of different circumstances. 

Originally, I started as a community support worker and in this role I was able to gain a plethora of knowledge surrounding harm reduction and vulnerable populations while working alongside nurses and case managers to meet our clients where they were at in terms of substance use, trauma and future housing. 

Since passing my NCLEX, I now work as an RN at the site and got to spend what would have been my convocation doing the job that all my hard work for my nursing degree has been for. Pre-COVID-19, I never saw myself working in a community setting, with an extremely vulnerable group, after never having a mental health and addictions placement in nursing school, but I couldn’t be more happy that my path changed. Since COVID-19, I have been able to build positive connections with my clients and develop a passion I didn’t even know I had for community and harm reduction nursing!

Even though so much of COVID-19 has been horrible, I am happy to see how people have been able to pause and reflect on the value of human connection, continue to work towards their goals, and be resilient in pushing forward and supporting one another despite extraordinary circumstances. I truly am humbled every day by the patients and staff I get to work alongside, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everybody who helped me along the way. We all share in the success of one another and we will get through this pandemic together.”

Hailee Crawford

Hailee Crawford

Renae Polan, Graduate Nurse, BN’20, UCalgary Nursing
She hopes to work in various acute care settings, to see how her passion for holistic patient-centred care transcends beyond the maternal-newborn population.

"In the past four years, I have met countless names and faces from all walks of life, starting the conversation with some version of 'Hi! My name is Renae, and I will be the nursing student caring for you today.' My inclination to care for others is ultimately the reason I pursued an education in nursing. The like-minded people I was continually surrounded by formed the support system that kept me going when things got tough.

People who were once peers and classmates are now co-workers and forever friends. Professors and instructors are not merely ‘teachers’ or ‘educators,’ but role models and confidants. The overwhelming sense of purpose and certainty that transpired as my unique nursing practice evolved is what gave me hope in times that I was ready to surrender.

Over the past four years, I have acquired the knowledge and skills that form the foundation of nursing — the profession of caring. I have re-discovered what it means to care for others, and to care for myself.  

Most of my clinical experiences as a nursing student were those in perinatal care settings. In postpartum nursing, I was an educator to parents — sometimes nervous first-timers faced with the reality that they now have a little human, and sometimes a couple who had their fifth baby and are prepared to be discharged home not even 24 hours after delivery.

In postpartum nursing, you are exposed to a plethora of 'family' units that challenge conventional definitions of the happily married heterosexual couple that flawlessly raises a functional home of four kids. You must analyze what subconscious values and beliefs you may hold that could impact the care you provide to an array of cultures and religions that celebrate the birth of a child in various manners. You meet warriors who have undergone fertility treatments for years to conceive. You are careful to express empathy rather than sympathy when you meet tenacious victims of sexual assault, determined to give life to a pure and innocent child that was in no way a part of their plan.

It is a privilege to provide postpartum care. It is an area of nursing where you must preserve dignity when it is near impossible to do so, you must advocate for those who are unable to do so for themselves, and you must empower those who feel powerless and less than capable of taking care of a fragile new life.

I can vividly remember the day when I was in Grade 12 when my mom texted me, thrilled, with a picture of my admission letter to the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing that had come in the mail and her saying, “I just couldn’t wait until you were home to open it.” I can’t wrap my head around the idea that this was four years ago, in 2016, that I started the program as a direct-entry student.

Even without considering the whole 'I graduated nursing during a pandemic and a time of major societal changes,' achieving this milestone is entirely surreal. The next time I walk into a patient’s room and introduce myself, it will be to say, 'Hi! My name is Renae, I’m a Registered Nurse, and I will be taking care of you today.'

To my fellow nursing graduates of 2020 — the COVID-19 cohort — it is not a goodbye, but a see you later."

Renae Polan

Renae Polan

UCalgary resources on COVID-19