As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies throughout the country, many Mount Saint Mary College Nursing students are fighting back on the frontlines.
In addition to hundreds of Mount Nursing alumni who are facing the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, several current Mount Nursing students are working at hospitals like Northern Dutchess Hospital, Northern Westchester Hospital, Montefiore Saint Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, and more.
Nursing student Briana Irwin of Slate Hill, N.Y., a full-time medical-surgical nursing assistant at Saint Anthony’s Community Hospital in Warwick, N.Y., has been caring for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Never did I consider that I would be working on the frontlines of a pandemic,” Irwin explained. “We need to be extremely mindful of every single move we make when caring for those with COVID-19, not only to ensure our safety, but to ensure the safety of all of our patients, our community, and our colleagues.”
Shannon Christiano of Yaphank, N.Y., president of the Mount’s Student Nurses’ Association, works in the emergency room at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y. as a nursing assistant. She says that every day presents new and unpredictable challenges.
“The scary part is that things are changing every day,” Christiano explained. “Policies are changing, and the number of patients under investigation for COVID-19 has skyrocketed…The most difficult thing is trying to treat very sick patients while also keeping their anxiety and stress at a manageable level.”
Jovanna Cruz of Levittown, N.Y., a Mount senior working at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan as a float patient care associate, said that working triage in the emergency room “opened my eyes to the severity and magnitude of the pandemic. You start to think, ‘Do we have enough beds and staff to tend to everyone?’”
For healthcare professionals, the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic don’t stop when they’re off the clock. Christiano notes that her parents and sister work in the healthcare field as well. When they’re not working, they have been practicing social isolation from themselves and others for nearly a month. “It’s a bit lonely, but at the end of the day it is for the greater good,” she said.
The nurses agreed that their training at the Mount helped to prepare them for the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Christiano said that her professors have enhanced her critical thinking and time management skills.
“It’s often necessary to get creative in the ways that we help our patients,” she explained. “Time management is also crucial because we have an influx of critically ill patients and we must be able to prioritize and manage our time to provide the best quality care.”
Irwin added that her professors have “provided us with up-to-date information and have been working diligently to educate the community about what is going on in our world right now. As difficult as these times may be, the Mount has gone above and beyond.”
Working on the healthcare frontlines during this pandemic has helped to mold the students into even stronger nurses, explained Diana Gomez of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who works at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie as a patient care tech.
“This pandemic has really taught me how to be an advocate for my patients and has taught me a great deal of compassion, patience, and hope,” she said. “These qualities are some of the most crucial to possess to be a better nurse.”
It has also helped the students learn to work better as a team with their fellow healthcare professionals, Cruz explained.
“This is the time where teamwork is of the utmost importance,” Cruz said. “I am learning firsthand how to deal with a pandemic crisis and how important it is to efficiently and effectively work together.”
Christiano added, “I feel that we will all come out of this stronger than ever. This situation is forcing everyone in healthcare to be flexible and open to learning new things.”
The Nursing students agree that it’s up to everyone to do their part to control the spread of the virus. Stay as safe and healthy as possible by utilizing frequent hand washing, practicing social distancing, and staying home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out, they said.
“Please take into consideration those who are immunocompromised, those who are elderly, and those who have underlying health conditions,” said Irwin. “As someone who has witnessed it firsthand, this virus is serious.”
They also suggested reaching out to friends and providing emotional support to those who need it, especially healthcare professionals, grocery store workers, delivery people, and anyone else not working from home at this time.
“It’s a time to reflect and reconnect with family,” said Gomez. “Tell them every day you love them, wake up every day and be grateful for another day of life.”
Even though it’s been difficult – and will likely get more so in the coming days and weeks – this experience has only served to strengthen the young nurses’ resolves.
“I am thankful and grateful every single day that I get to help someone in their most vulnerable and weakest moments; to help make their difficult situation even a little bit better,” said Irwin. “Working on the frontlines of a pandemic has confirmed what I have always thought: that I know this is exactly what I was put on this Earth to do. It has put into perspective that one day I am going to be like the nurses I work with and the nurses I am getting my education from at Mount Saint Mary College. I have never been prouder of them and they are paving the path for me to be the best future RN that I could possibly be.”
“I honestly love what I do and would not change it,” she said. “I chose this line of work for a reason and I want to continue to help others as much as I can.”