Accelerated Learning: Being a Student Nurse During the Pandemic

Author: Daniel Thornton

Categories: General Infection Prevention May 8, 2022

As anyone who has ever gone through nursing school knows, being a student nurse is not easy during the best of times. Throw a worldwide pandemic into the mix and it becomes something even more difficult.

Student nurses face a steep learning curve that can be very overwhelming but having to learn to be a nurse when the seasoned nurses are also overwhelmed has been a wild ride indeed. In numerous ways, it has been a defining moment for healthcare in general. Many in the nursing field have become too exhausted to keep working, or even sadly have lost their lives to the disease that they were trying to help their patients get through.

Now, the newest generation of nurses is entering the field during a time of great upheaval: shortages in staffing and supplies, and profound operational changes. The future of nursing hangs in the balance, and it may look vastly different going forward than it has in the past.

The Decision to Major in Nursing

My parents have made successful careers in the nursing field; however, I became a business major at first to experience a career option I was potentially good at versus something I was familiar with. After a few years and a lot of wasted tuition dollars, I realized nursing was my calling. I started working on my prerequisites for nursing school and became a certified nurse assistant (CNA) in the field. The orientation for my first job happened right before the pandemic hit and wearing a mask was not the norm for regular patient care.

Not even a week after my orientation ended, I was dressed from head to toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask. My neuro unit was no longer a neuro unit, but a med-surg unit for any patients who did not have COVID-19, and the rest of the hospital was designated specifically for COVID care. Everything changed from the ground up. The mental, physical, and collective toll it took on all of us in healthcare is difficult to describe.

What the Pandemic Taught Nursing Students

Although the pandemic was scary at first, it brought my floor team together in a very tangible way. We worked cohesively in ways we never had before, supporting and having each other’s backs. My co-workers’ resilience in the face of such a great disaster and the teamwork that I have witnessed has been inspirational to me. I felt so proud of their ability to adapt to such challenging situations.

The pandemic made nursing school a vastly unique experience. Try growing five kinds of live bacteria for microbiology in your kitchen, three feet away from where you make your sandwich instead of in the school lab. Everything was online and at home: the labs, the lectures, and even the tests. I would drive to work with a permission slip stating that I was allowed out of my home since I was an essential healthcare worker, then go home and work on school. I would evaluate how effective Lysol is on E. coli in different concentrations in my kitchen, then clear some space to dissect a sheep brain, then later leave to go to work again in a city that was deserted with hardly a car in sight. Being at considerable risk for daily exposure to COVID, I did not see my family for many months.

Post Pandemic: Back to the Basics

Now that the chaos of the pandemic is settling and the world is starting to get back to some normalcy, I can say that I have come out as both a better healthcare worker and student. The experience I gained and continue to build on working as a CNA and a student nurse during the pandemic has been invaluable. While college courses are still hybrid, I find myself being a mentor to my classmates in the lecture hall more than I do being a student myself.

I always was afraid that becoming a CNA would have dampened my drive to become a nurse. I thought that doing the “grunt work” of nursing would make me reconsider my decision to go into nursing school, but it had the exact opposite effect. I often tell my peers in college about how I now understand that nurses do more than administer medication and perform patient assessments, they also perform the responsibilities of a CNA. Both a CNAs and a nurses’ goal is to make sure their patients are clean, dry, and comfortable.

The experiences I gained during the pandemic have only accelerated and elevated my drive to become a nurse. I am excited to graduate and become a registered nurse (RN); a worldwide pandemic has done nothing but increases that excitement. We all can breathe a collective sigh of relief as we see COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and if there is another variant that comes our way, we are now experienced as a team and prepared to manage it!


Daniel Thornton
Third-Year CHOICE Nursing Student at Regis University, Colorado

About Daniel

Daniel Thornton is a third-year CHOICE nursing student at Regis University, Colorado, and a CNA on the neuro-trauma unit at Aurora medical center, Aurora Colorado.

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