“The reality of nursing is definitely different than my expectations before I started working full time,” said Mary Flynn, a 22-year-old Registered Nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx. She added, “It’s a difficult job that has a big learning curve, but you rely on your knowledge, resources, and coworkers to get you through it. I think my expectations lacked the reality of short staffing and the days that you’re so busy you’re not able to take your breaks or even use the bathroom once during a 13-hour shift.”
As of 2017, Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. Of all licensed RNs, 84.5% are employed in nursing according to the Journal of Nursing Regulation.
Flynn is one of the thousands of new nurses across the tri-state area that began their careers only a few months before the impact of Covid-19. Thrown into the mayhem and unpredictability that overran the healthcare system, these nurses have had to learn on their feet and adapt to ever-changing circumstances and the constant threat of contracting the illness. With death rates reaching over 12,000 in mid-April, the lack of supplies and staff available to hospitals across New York state, and according to Flynn, created a feeling of “Paranoia, fear, danger, betrayal”.
For many, nursing is a calling that people feel at a young age that drives them to pursue a rigorous education path leading to a degree at 21 years old, “ I’ve always loved science and biology, I found myself called to it ever since advanced classes in high school. More than that, I knew I wanted to work with people and to do something that truly made a difference in their lives.” However, being thrust into a new medical career right after college can be stressful for anyone but doing it as a professional during a worldwide pandemic, is something nobody can be adequately prepared for, mentally or physically.”
Flynn was a full-time nurse for about 6 months before Coronavirus cases started showing up in New York. During those six months, she was still in the orientation phase of her position, learning the ropes, and getting used to the erratic schedule of a full-time nurse. Once the virus came to New York, everything changed. She was thrust into the chaos just like every other medical professional, expected to manage the sudden influx of patients without the proper protection or supplies. “They kept changing hospital policy, and everyone became frantic. We worried about where to put patients; everyone was saying it was airborne…we felt powerless because we didn’t even have the right knowledge of what was going on”.
However, despite all the confusion and chaos, Flynn says there are still happy moments that keep her going, “Everyone on my floor is so great at working together, everyone has your back and can still joke around…[There is a] ‘Happy code’ three times a day where they announce a number of patients discharged and the number extubated (they were on a ventilator and now are determined strong enough to breathe on their own) and sometimes they play New York State of mind by Alicia Keys and everyone dances”.
If you’re wondering how this pandemic will affect young people’s decision to become nurses or doctors, you are not alone. I spoke to Mary Somma and Nina Katz, two seniors at Nanuet High School who planned to become nurses before the pandemic struck. “Being in the hospital exposes you to things out of the norm, pandemic or not… I know what the risks are and I was aware that it was dangerous, I don’t like living in fear. As a nurse, I will still have the same mindset as I want to be able to help others even if that means putting my own life at risk” said Somma, who plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh in the Fall.
Katz shared the same sentiment when it came to not letting the pandemic keep her from pursuing her passion “I am more sure now than ever that nursing is the career path I will be taking. To start my nursing education in a global pandemic seems like a perfect choice for me. I’m energetic, driven, and empathetic. I’m very excited about my future, and am looking forward to starting SUNY Plattsburgh’s nursing program in the fall.”
A global pandemic of the magnitude of Covid-19 is not something that most people anticipated. Although there have been signs of life returning to normal, with some cities slowly starting to open up, we still have a long way to go before society is back to business as usual. Our nurses and doctors will be facing the repercussions of this virus for months and possibly years to come.
The fear and uncertainty may make many of us feel discouraged or hopeless during times like this, but we can never forget that there is always a silver lining. Healthcare workers are out there every day saving lives and there is another class of heroes right behind them getting ready to join the fight.
For those teetering on whether or not to follow the nursing career path during this tough time, Flynn’s words may bring you a bit of solace, “I remain proud to be a nurse today. I still believe it is an amazing and gratifying career. I would hate to discourage anyone from pursuing a career I love so much, due to the current crisis.”
As Mr. Rogers says, when times are scary “Look for the Helpers.”