Student Nurses Speak Up

NSNA leaders share COVID-19 worries, nursing school memories, and excitement about their futures

By Barry Bottino
Among nurses and healthcare professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a slew of different emotions – fear, frustration, isolation, sadness, anger, anxiety, a sense of duty to patients, and many others.
As they prepare to join the profession during a global pandemic, these emotions have certainly not escaped the next generation of nurses.
“At first, I was very hesitant,” said Jaleighya Townsend, a senior at Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University in Atlanta and the National Student Nurses' Association’s (NSNA) Breakthrough to Nursing Director. “I thought, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’”
Before graduating in December 2020 from Aurora University in suburban Chicago, Alexis Hodges, BSN, RN, had similar concerns. In high school, she was intrigued after taking a class on health occupations and became a CNA.
While working in a local hospital, Hodges said she noticed nurses experiencing burnout while picking up extra shifts.
“Do I really want to go into a profession where I’m going to get burned out easily and maybe not even find that I love to do it?” she asked herself.
Jaleighya Townsend

Alexis Hodges, RN
But seeing how the hospital’s nurses offered expert care for sick patients was all the assurance she needed.
“Seeing that impact, I knew it was for sure something I wanted to do,” said Hodges, who works in a neuro ICU and serves as Chair of the NSNA’s Council of State Presidents.
Hodges, Townsend, and two other student leaders talked to about how COVID-19 has impacted their thoughts on the profession and education, along with their best memories of nursing school, advice for younger students, and what they expect from older nurses.
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COVID-19 Adjustments
For Nikule Abel, a senior at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and an NSNA Director, the pandemic hit home when her aunt died after contracting the virus.
“For me, it was scary,” said Abel. “But also, here’s your time to really make a difference. I just wanted to help people and treat them like they were my own family.”
Abel found herself learning a lot about self-care early in the pandemic. Months before COVID-19 began, she experienced the deaths of her brother and a cousin that were unrelated to the pandemic.
Nikule Abel
And then, the quarantine began.
“When you’re going through this grieving process and you can’t leave the house, it’s emotionally draining,” said Abel, who is married and has 9-year-old and 2-year-old sons. “The last six months, I worked really hard on being proactive with my mental health along with my family’s mental health.”
Nursing schools also had to make plenty of adjustments during the pandemic, transitioning courses into an online environment and dealing with limited clinical assignments for students.
“I’m more of an in-person, hands-on learner,” said Kyle Loose, a sophomore at Penn State University and NSNA vice president. “The entire Zoom university is not my forte, to say the least.”
With many local healthcare facilities not accepting students for clinical assignments, Loose said he drives 50 minutes to work in a nursing home. Despite the challenge, he is inspired “to put a smile on this little 90-year-old woman’s face who tells me all about her grandkids.”
Kyle Loose
Words of Advice
Seeing first-hand what a future career path might entail is the most important advice Loose has for younger students considering a path into nursing.
“Shadow a nurse,” said Loose, whose long-term goal is to become a nurse anesthetist.
Loose said rewards can come out of even the most stressful shift. “It’s so rewarding to see these patients light up when they talk to you, especially in nursing homes, because they’re not allowed to have visitors.”
Townsend suggests that younger students should find a healthcare-related volunteer opportunity.
“Try to get experience before you come to nursing school,” she said. “Nursing isn’t for everyone. I’d hate for someone to get through prerequisites and get to nursing school and find out it’s not for them.”
Abel’s education journey took seven years and included working while sometimes taking only one class a semester.
She tells younger students, “Just do it, no matter how long it takes you. You have to believe in yourself.”
Leaning on Seasoned Nurses
As a new generation enters the field, what they want from older nurses is simple.
“Just guidance,” said Abel, who plans to start her career as a trauma nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after graduation.
During her preceptorship on a burn ICU unit, “the older and more experienced nurses have been absolutely amazing in my learning experience,” she said.
When you come in with an attitude that you’re willing to work hard, that shows other people who are more experienced and older that you want to be there,” Abel said. “They’ll be more willing to help you in your process.
— Nikule Abel
Based on her experiences, Abel said going into a new environment with a willingness to be open is important.
“When you come in with an attitude that you’re willing to work hard, that shows other people who are more experienced and older that you want to be there,” Abel said. “They’ll be more willing to help you in your process.”
Townsend added, “I want to gain knowledge from them that’s not in a textbook.”
Memories for A Lifetime
Along with launching them into a rewarding career, nursing school offered challenges and lifelong memories.
“That first semester when the cohort and I had our white coat ceremony,” Townsend recalled fondly, “was kind of the beginning for us. We were all really excited.”
For Abel, joining NSNA was her best memory.
“It’s changed the trajectory of my career and how many people I’ve been able to help,” she said, noting that being a student leader allowed her to use her voice on important issues.
Advocating for her peers also was a highlight for Hodges, with a little help from Aurora’s nursing faculty.
“One of the big things that I did was, during my last semester, create a virtual pinning ceremony for us because we weren’t able to have one because of [the pandemic],” she said. “All of the instructors helped. It was very rewarding.”
About the Author
Barry Bottino is a freelance writer.
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