Alberta’s health services have undergone drastic changes during the COVID pandemic, including increased demand for nurses to work the frontlines. With these changes, MacEwan University’s senior nursing students have a lot to consider in terms of joining the workforce following the completion of their degree.
With the surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations, nurses are in high demand. At this critical time, nurses are the backbone of the community. As a result, the nursing workforce is changing in several ways. With a limited pool of nurses, there has been an increase in burnout from 30 to 40 per cent in the spring of 2020 to more than 60 per cent in the spring of 2021, according to Science Table.
This change has not gone unnoticed by MacEwan’s nursing faculty students who are being trained to become registered nurses. Reid Smith and Payton Vibe are both third-year nursing students who anticipate joining the workforce amidst the pandemic. We have all seen the social media posts of fatigued nurses displaying their exhaustion after 24-hour shifts. The stories of overcrowded hospitals are unavoidable, but these are more than just news stories for MacEwan nursing students.
“We’re seeing what’s in the media, we’re hearing what is heard on a society-level basis, and then transitioning that to clinical, and actually seeing the effects of it in the hospital,” says Vibe, in reference to the clinical practices done by nursing students. “It’s a very stark contrast once you do enter that workplace.”
As a result, many of the students have very strong feelings about the healthcare system and entering the workplace at such a critical time. “A lot of (students) are motivated and determined to make changes as registered nurses),” says Smith about his peers in the nursing faculty.
At the same time, there is also uncertainty when it comes to the level of preparation for some of the students. Due to the transition from in-person classes to online delivery, there is less opportunity for in-person labs, which normally provide students with hands-on experiences where they can apply their skills and knowledge. “I know I have a good set of skills, but I’m not fully there yet,” admits Vibe. “A lot of students are feeling that nervousness, (with) some of that coming from not being able to have things in-person as much.” While there may be knowledge deficits and knowledge gaps due to these changes, the nursing faculty remains strong.
The nursing faculty has been perseverant despite everything. The instructors have made great efforts to motivate and prepare students for the future.
MacEwan’s nursing professors have been vital in being a support system for many students. When asked about his perception of the nursing faculty’s response, Smith says, “the nursing faculty has been resilient and really stepped up to help us prepare to become nurses as students … I feel really appreciative of the nursing faculty.”
While the nursing faculty has been supportive in guiding students with their education, there are other resources that are available to alleviate some of the stress caused by COVID. MacEwan’s mental health services could greatly benefit certain nursing students who might be dealing with stress or anxiety.
Providing these resources to students will create an outlet for students who may be feeling overwhelmed. For Vibe, there are benefits in engaging in dialogue with students. “I feel like during these times … we should be having the necessary conversations about what’s going on around us and how we’re dealing with it.”
Despite the uncertainty of the future, both Smith and Vibe look forward to entering the workforce. There is much work to be done to improve the conditions of the healthcare system as well as the conditions for nurses, and this might be the critical time to incite these changes. We have seen the importance of nurses and the role they play in supporting the entire population’s health and well-being. For Smith, he wants to make an impact as a registered nurse. “I want to change the system and become a nurse who can support and care for my patients.”
“I am grateful that I went through nursing school during this pandemic because I feel that much more prepared,” acknowledges Vibe. While the pandemic has brought its share of drawbacks, it has increased awareness surrounding supporting nurses and the importance of the healthcare system in our society. “The pandemic brought me an entirely new perspective on global health,” adds Vibe.
MacEwan’s nursing students are standing on the precipice of change. The challenges they face are unlike anything MacEwan’s previous nursing students have experienced. These students are the future of healthcare. The University has been vital in helping students become more prepared to enter the workforce. Even during the pandemic, MacEwan’s nursing students are making the best out of the situation and learning how they can make a difference in the healthcare system.
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