Pre-health professionals and students persevere in the medical field despite the COVID-19 pandemic
Nurses were working 12-hour shifts at the height of the pandemic – all without a lunch break. Hesitant in the face of work schedules and stress, Claire Sproule almost chose a career path other than that of nurse.
However, the 20-year-old junior nurse from UF decided to stay in the nursing program despite the difficulties faced by her colleagues.
“It also puts into perspective how healthcare workers are heroes,” Sproule said. “It inspires me even more.”
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise and patients have been piling up at UF Health Shands hospital throughout the pandemic. But difficult circumstances haven’t deterred students like Sproule from pursuing their dreams.
In July, the Delta variant surge hit Shands with a dramatic increase in hospitalizations with patients facing more severe symptoms, said Nicolás Kattán, associate chief of Shands’ Division of Hospital Medicine. The hospital has prioritized beds for COVID-19 patients over those who are not infected.
“It’s been a total of three crazy months,” Kattán said.
When COVID-19 patients arrive, staff cannot escape the emotional scars that come with seeing the impacts of the virus.
Patients are told they will be on oxygen when they arrive at the COVID-19 unit, Kattán said.
If patients need more oxygen, they are transferred to the intermediate care unit, where there are more nurses available. In more extreme circumstances, patients are transferred to the intensive care unit to be intubated and connected to a ventilator. If a patient is not ready to get out of the machine, he is put in a coma for another 24 hours.
Patients may refuse life support, which puts them at additional risk, Kattán said.
“This conversation really kicks people off,” Kattán said. “Will this be the last time I can talk to my family?” Will I be able to leave the hospital?
With the added challenges of the pandemic, staff have had to work after their shifts, intensive care nurse Shuyun Shi said.
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“You just say, ‘If I can stay here for another 10 minutes and do what I can, that can make a difference,'” Shi said.
Shi feels frustrated to see patients die when vaccines could have limited the severity of their infection. The nurses bonded with colleagues to cope with the losses despite the pressure.
“We had to work long shifts; we had to do without water breaks; starving ourselves because we were very busy,” Shi said. “And we all looked out for each other and got through it.”
The pandemic has caused Ashley Parrish, a 29-year-old nursing student at Santa Fe College, to reconsider her career. Her hesitation stemmed from what she saw as unempathetic healthcare workers politicizing the virus.
“There should be no bias when it comes to providing health care to individuals,” Parrish said. “Everyone deserves equal treatment.”
To stay motivated, health students need to remember what sparked their passion, Parrish said.
“You just have to think about the kind of regrets you would have if you changed your career decision because of a temporary problem,” Parrish said.
However, the pandemic has further motivated some aspiring medical professionals.
Pratham Pinni, a 19-year-old UF health science student, said he was more motivated to become a doctor after seeing how essential doctors are when there is a shortage of medical personnel.
“It’s almost like a precious resource,” Pinni said. “It seems difficult now, but if you can get through it, then you’ve basically helped so many people. A doctor can save so many lives.
Contact JP Oprison at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.
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JP is in his fourth year majoring in journalism with a minor in history. He is currently a health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of college students in Gainesville. In his spare time, JP enjoys working out at the gym and relaxing on the beach.