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Becoming A Nurse In The Age Of COVID-19

Alexis Fox Zoom image.
Alexis Fox of Clarkston is a recent MSU College of Nursing Graduate. Her first job will be in Denver. Image via Zoom.

The Michigan State University College of Nursing awarded degrees to more than 40 graduates this month. Those new nurses are entering the health care field at a critical time, as America faces the COVID-19 pandemic. WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with one of those new nurses about the unanticipated challenges of going into nursing during these unprecedented times.

Alexis Fox of Clarkston, Michigan, was motivated to become a nurse while observing her mother’s care as a two-time breast cancer survivor. While a student at MSU, she also became her grandfather’s primary care provider during his battle with lung cancer. Fox will start her job in the blood center unit at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in a few months.

COVID-19 has made nursing a different, maybe scarier profession than it was when she and her classmates decided to go into nursing.

ALEXIS FOX: It definitely puts a lot more pressure on it because naturally, going into the workforce as a new grad nurse without COVID, it's nerve racking, it's scary. And then, having all of this kind of uncertainty with it and just kind of not knowing, but that's kind of what we were going to be facing anyway.

When our clinicals were canceled for COVID, I was kind of bummed, because I'm like, this is what we're training for, this is the epitome of our job, this is what nursing is all about. I think that a lot of us just kind of wanted to dive in and be able to help in any way that we can, really. So, there definitely is the nerve wracking part of it. But I think that we all feel like we are pretty prepared, and hopefully we'll be able to make a difference.

SCOTT POHL: Tell me how, or if, the realities of COVID was folded into the curriculum here in the last few months, because it didn't exist 10 or 11 months ago. How was the College of Nursing addressing the issues related to COVID for its students?

FOX: We had a lot of different things that happened as a result of COVID, one of them being we were able to do some community outreach through it. For one of our health promotion classes, we were able to sign up and help do COVID testing, also standing at stations to hand out masks and other equipment like that, so that was really cool. Also, some of our classes did have some lectures that kind of focused on COVID, especially with the vaccine coming out and all of that information, so I think that they were pretty good about trying to keep us in the loop and informed in real time of what was going on.

POHL: It's my understanding that some nurses are being called into COVID wards, even though it isn't what they signed up for necessarily. Do you have a sense for how much that might be happening to you and your fellow recent graduates?

FOX: To be honest, I think that it will just depend on the location that they're working in and the hospital that they're at, because for my hospital, since it is an oncology hospital, we most likely won't have a COVID floor. Again, if there's someone possibly working a med surg floor, I know that some of our clinicals actually, this semester, they weren't standard medical surgical floor, and they got transferred to COVID. So, some students actually had to face that dilemma of how they're going to get their clinical hours done and if they're able to work on a COVID floor. I think that it just really depends on the facility.

POHL: Do you know of anyone who, in the face of COVID, has decided this isn't for me, this isn't what I signed up for, I'm going to find something else to do with my life? Do you know anyone who's made that choice?

FOX: I don't know anyone personally who's made that choice. I am on some social media, like new nursing things where there are some concerns, where people are looking to not work in hospitals upon graduation. They're looking for other avenues for nursing, but I think pretty much all of my classmates are going straight into hospitals and straight into the front lines.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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