When you are little you think heroes wear red capes; this past year has shown us that heroes often wear scrubs. Our medical professionals have been on the frontline and we are very grateful for all that they do. It is obviously a very intense and exhausting time to be in the medical field and we wanted to sit down with a nursing student from Montgomery County, Jane Kelly, and her parents, to gain some insight on how they are feeling about entering this medical climate. Kelly is a rising senior and has just one year between her and the Board Exam. Not only is it nerve-wracking to enter this medical climate she also has lost valuable clinical hours when universities switched to a remote model back in the spring semester. The Kelly family shared with us what is going through their heads as Jane enters her senior year and gears up to step into the heroic and admirable job as a nurse.
No one person's experiences are universal so we wanted to get a number of perspectives from people who are gearing up to enter the medical field. We also reached out to Jennifer Jones, of Lehigh County, who is currently working her way through an accelerated nursing program. Jones has a unique perspective because she was just beginning her time as a nursing student when COVID threw a wrench into her plans.
Kelly has just gotten the word from her school that she will be able to attend her clinicals this semester. This is a huge relief for both her and her parents because that in-hospital time is so essential during her education process. "I have already lost 48 hours. Those are 48 hours where I could have been hands-on with patients, interacted with other medical staff, and strengthened my nursing skills." "I do think it will be a hindrance for everyone that is in her shoes right now. All students, especially in degrees that require hands-on learning, are at a greater disadvantage than people who had more typical book learning college experience," said Kelly's mom.
The switch from in-person to remote learning was hard for both Kelly and Jones. "It was incredibly difficult for me. When you're in a class with a professor, even if it is a huge lecture, you can interact with them and your fellow classmates. They also go into more depth when they're in person. We have these things called simulation labs and it is like you're basically with a patient, missing those was kind of a big deal. For 3 weeks we had no school at all and then we were on this crazy time crunch to get it all done, and of course, I had my hardest class. They didn't add any time to the semester they just sped it up," said Kelly. She thinks backs on many sleepless nights where she sat up studying in her childhood bedroom way later than anybody else in her house. The material that is taught to nursing students is hard enough without it being crammed into a short amount of time. "I wasn't myself by the end of the Spring semester. I was so stressed when I looked at my books and saw just how much material I had to retain; and I was even more stressed when I gave myself 'breaks' because all I could think about was how I should have been studying."
Kelly's dad mentioned that this was the first semester she did not get on Dean's List during her entire college career. "Even though she had her hardest class yet she also had to handle a lot of it basically on her own. She was incredibly stressed at times. We would try to cook her favorite meals or do things we know she enjoys in an effort to help her destress but nothing really worked. The day she closed her laptop after her last final of the semester was a big relief for the entire family. We knew she could begin to relax and catch up on some much-needed sleep." For the Kelly family; Jane, both parents and their high school senior son all switched to working/learning from home all around the same time. "We are fortunate to have enough rooms in our house for all of us to effectively separate and focus but it did put a strain on our wifi, which created challenges for all of us."
Jones felt like she did okay with the material but her mental health greatly suffered from the isolation that comes with remote learning. "I thought I was fine up until like 2 weeks ago, I had a really stressful week. In-person it would have still been stressful but learning remotely made it much worse. Not having that person to person interaction caused me to dissociate and it almost felt like life wasn't real. It was a very scary feeling. I talked to my therapist about this feeling and he said it was one a lot of students were dealing with because of isolation and a lack of human connection."
Therapy is something that has greatly benefited Jone's mental health since she was a child and she heavily relied on it these last couple of months. "Having that outlet to say what I am feeling and thinking in a non-judgmental and safe place is so helpful. Calling my friends and family helped a lot too, right now is hard for a lot of people and while we can't physically be together we need our support systems more than ever."
Both Kelly and Jones needed to be reminded by the loved ones around them that although school is important they need to also prioritize their mental health. "We would urge Jane to take those little breaks and facetime her friends, or come down and eat diner with the family and debrief our days and try and laugh at silly things to bring everyone's moods up. We understood that it was scary to lose any more time studying but we also knew those breaks recharged her and helped her to better focus when she went back to it," said Kelly's mom. "It was hard to remember to do it but no matter how little time you think you have you should always try and fit in some 'you time'. Calling my friends, going for a run, and taking baths are all things that help to relax me and I tried to fit them in," said Kelly.
Once you are in a state of heightened stress it can be difficult to figure out how to relax. Like Kelly, think ahead and plan out those activities so when stress hits you know what helps. Click here to see how to set up an Emotional Safety Plan for yourself!
Nursing school is notorious for being very difficult, however, other than saving lives, one perk of entering a nursing career is job security. Once you get through your rigorous nursing courses and study day and night for the Boards, you are supposed to have countless job opportunities. Things seem to be changing and for the first time in forever, this security may be at risk. It seems like more than ever nurses and doctors are at the forefront of the media and the need for them is endless. However, one of the million ways that COVID has impacted the medical field is by preventing people from going to the doctors for non-emergency related issues. People are anxious to even leave their house to get groceries, let alone go to a hospital or doctor's office.
This has made both the Kelly family and Jones anxious about entering the job force, especially with student loans. "I want to be an ER nurse, so this hopefully will not impact my job options because the ER is as busy as ever. This would however deter me if my goal was to be a regular doctor's office nurse," said Kelly. Jones on the other hand has had way less clinical time than Kelly and is unsure of what kind of nurse she wants to be although she is intrigued by working in the ICU and being able to help people that really need it. "Maybe I am naive, or just a proud mother, but I think Jane will get a job as we always expected. Perhaps the salaries will be restructured to account for the loss of money going to hospitals or something but Jane is going to be a great nurse any hospital is going to be lucky to have her," said Kelly's mom.
It was when Kelly's father had a major life-saving surgery that her wheels started turning about entering the medical field. "I want to help people and I thought about going to medical school but in my personal experience nurses can be more physically involved in their patients' healing process and can make a huge difference when they go above and beyond to make sure they recover and feel comfortable," said Kelly. Jones shares in Kelly's sentiment by being driven to help. "It is pretty amazing how much a nurse can transform someone's healthcare experience. I want to be a part of that," said Jones.
We at PA Parent and Family Alliance want to say thank you to Kelly, Jones, and everyone who is currently in or entering the medical field right now. It has never before been more apparent just how heroic this work is.
Are you worried about the upcoming school year and how to help your child manage their studies and mental health? Feel free to reach out to our Family Support Partners. We're here for you.