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Learning on the front lines: student nurse resilience amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
May 25, 2021, By: Kendra Korver
three female student nurses
As students, we gain solid ground by learning from and finding value in the experiences of our instructors, preceptors, peers, and most importantly, ourselves. Moreover, we are taught to reflect and take each opportunity as it comes.

The next generation of Canadian nurses are being bolstered and challenged by the most unprecedented of times. It is something we, as students, would expect in a simulation lab or a case scenario, but instead we are living and learning in a new reality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered insurmountable challenges, changes, and hardships for every Canadian. No one has been left unaffected in its wake.

And yet, we know that nursing and nurses are founded upon resilience. We are the products of our environments. In dire circumstances such as this pandemic, we still can find opportunities for growth and absorb every experience we get.

A unique perspective

Being a student nurse gives us a unique perspective. We see the strain on the health-care system and on our future co-workers; we see the tireless efforts of our instructors, and we feel the stress and uncertainty of knowing that our education and our careers hang in the balance.

Daily case numbers and deaths broadcast across social media instil fear and despair as we recognize that these challenges may well persist for our new workforce. COVID-19 has affected the education of all nursing students, whether through missed practicum time, online classes, or even lack of social interaction.

Finding solid ground in a pandemic

Richard Camacho, a third-year nursing student from the University of Lethbridge and the 2020/2021 president of the Nursing Students’ Association, describes his personal experience:

When I decided to take on the role of president of the Nursing Students’ Association at the University of Lethbridge at the start of the pandemic, I realized that it would define me as both a student and a student leader. The pandemic itself has brought many challenges to me personally, such as being able to adapt to a virtual learning environment, identifying methods of communication that work best for everyone, and learning how to achieve school/work/life balance.*

Jasmine Wong, a fourth-year nursing student and representative for the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union, shares a similar perspective:

Being a nursing student, it was difficult for me to adjust to online learning, especially when a lot of the learning happens during in-person clinical settings. I was afraid I would lose my hands-on skills and application of concepts learned in my classes. Online learning made me self-aware about some areas I could improve on, such as prioritizing and organizing my time for studying and assignments. It made me realize that nursing extends beyond the clinical setting, and that passion for nursing perseveres whether classes are online or not.*

It is safe to say that nobody anticipated being where they are now when they submitted their university application. But we are still adapting, growing, and striving to get the most out of our learning.

We worry about whether we will ever feel equipped and prepared to work on the front lines when the time comes. After all, how can we possibly gain our footing in the midst of a landslide?

Finding opportunities

As students, we gain solid ground by learning from and finding value in the experiences of our instructors, preceptors, peers, and most importantly, ourselves. Moreover, we are taught to reflect and take each opportunity as it comes. Many of us have taken on jobs, whether as health-care aides, undergraduate nurse employees, screeners, or even immunizers as the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out.

We are still adapting, growing, and striving to get the most out of our learning.

Jasmine Wong is one of those students who has found opportunities as a result of COVID-19:

I still wanted to use my influence, knowledge, and passion as a future nurse, so I applied for a position as a health-care aide. I ended up getting a position on a palliative and general medicine unit. … I was scared at first with the increased risk of encountering COVID individuals, but I thought this job was the perfect way to get my foot into a government-level job and keep up my nursing skills and knowledge.

I’ve built connections with nurses, students, and interdisciplinary staff members, and have increased my confidence in delivering patient care. I’m starting a job as an undergraduate nurse to provide COVID immunizations. … Without the pandemic, I would never have gotten these learning and career opportunities. I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for others, take the time to slow down, and acknowledge the differences in privilege throughout the pandemic.*

In my own experience as a fourth-year student, I was able to work as an undergraduate nurse and a health-care aide, both of which provided me with a unique perspective on how the pandemic was affecting different populations. As a health-care aide in continuing care, for example, I saw how the mental and psycho-social health of seniors became a point of concern as loneliness and desolation significantly affected health outcomes, and likely will continue to do so.

Now, as I am completing my final preceptorship in a rural health centre, I see just how interconnected the health-care system is, and how something as detrimental as a pandemic can have such a notable downstream effect on patients and patient care, staff, and support systems.

Taking the initiative

In our daily lives, nursing students take the initiative to promote health in our communities, whether through education, research, or advocacy. We recognize the responsibility that falls to us as citizens and also as a student body.

While working to represent nursing students at the University of Lethbridge, Richard found that

… to be able to lead a team effectively requires constant communication, and to be resilient means to find solutions to barriers while rising above them. I am fortunate to be a part of a generation of nursing students that are eager to do their part, and I look forward to learning further as a nursing student.*

While we still have much to experience as novice nurses, we are inspired to keep going by those who are working tirelessly to heal, to protect, and ultimately, to care.

As an up-and-coming workforce, we have withstood the trials set before us, and we feel equipped to take on the challenges. We know that we are on a career path of lifelong learning, even if it is through the most catastrophic of times.

* All quotations are personal communications that occurred in February 2021.

Kendra Korver is a fourth-year nursing student and secretary of the Nursing Students’ Association at the University of Lethbridge.