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School may be closed, but nursing students have continued to learn while working on the COVID-19 frontlines. Most find that they are more dedicated than ever in the wake of the pandemic. Now in her third year at University of Virginia, Martha Peterson says, “It’s definitely made me want to become a nurse even more. All this has also given me a greater appreciation of nursing, too. If it’s for the greater good, and helps people survive, the risks are really worth it.” “I do think that I feel more needed than ever, more necessary,” says fourth-year UVA student, Tyler Gaedecke, who begins work on a pediatric ICU this month.

A major challenge for many has been learning to cope with fear. Gaedecke says, “There are some who’re asking, ‘Did we sign up for this?’ which will be a big debate for years in the particular generation of nurses I’m a part of, and that’s a complicated question, but I’m definitely ready to get out there.” Northeastern University grad Hannah Terry made herself available to work wherever she was needed at Massachusetts General Hospital, but she admits to having been deeply afraid: “Seeing that some of these patients were so young and there was nothing [else] wrong with them—this was at the time where everyone was saying that it was only the elderly and the immuno-compromised that were getting sick. A lot of people were—including myself—very fearful of what we couldn’t see.”

Third year Northeastern student Susan Dawson, reflecting on her 36 hours a week on the COVID-19 ICU at Massachusetts General, said, “I’m glad I had hospital experience before this all broke out. I think I would have been a lot more scared and tentative if I had not.” However, she cannot help feeling emotional when she thinks about the death toll. At the height of the outbreak, Dawson recalls, “The patients are not just in-and-out in a few days. We see these patients each day, we get attached to these patients, even though they can’t talk—we still are attached to them, we care for them. Seeing a patient not come out of this, knowing that the doctors and nurses are doing everything they can, it just isn’t good.”

Overall, though, students have focused on giving patients the best nursing care possible under such extreme conditions, helping facilitate Zoom meet-ups with family members and providing human contact amid the PPE. Columbia student Ashlynn Lawrence held patients’ hands and did her best to lift their spirits: “I always try to tell them that underneath all the personal protective equipment, I’m smiling, and I encourage them to do the same. The comfort of a friendly face goes a long way.”

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