Recent USF grads launch nursing careers during challenging times

June 17, 2020

As young nurses beginning their careers, recent University of Saint Francis graduates are grateful to learn so much during the COVID-19 pandemic. But their newfound knowledge is accompanied by stress, worry, fatigue and—in a positive reflection of their USF education—empathy.

“Some days are harder than others, but I’ve been a part of things that I never would have otherwise been a part of,” said Madi Schwartz, a December 2019 graduate who works in the Parkview Medical ICU. “I’ve had to learn a lot of things and that’s been good for me. I’ve also seen some Godly things happen, just very sick people you think aren’t going to make it who do.”

Schwartz is among many recent USF alumni who have been thrown into one of the most challenging and unpredictable medical situations in decades. The pandemic has been a challenge even to experienced nurses who would otherwise be imparting insight to their younger, less-experienced colleagues.

Jordyn Trump, another December 2019 graduate who works in the Surgical Trauma ICU at Parkview, acknowledges being nervous at first about dealing with patients who have the virus.

“When you have a COVID-19 patient, you see some things that you’ve never seen before,” Trump said. “Doctors have never seen it. Nurses have never seen it. I’m learning alongside them as a brand-new nurse. Usually, I’d be learning from them, but now I’m right alongside them with the pandemic.”

While Fort Wayne hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed with cases, there have been a steady number of patients who have contracted the virus and need medical care.

Allie Solaro, who graduated from USF in December 2018, works in the COVID-19 unit at Lutheran Hospital. There have been times when the unit was almost full, she said. The uncertainty of how long the virus will remain a serious problem adds some tension on the job.

“When we were very full, it was very busy and it was overwhelming to go to work,” Solaro said. “We were just like, ‘How long is this going to last? We can’t wait to get back to normal.’ But I have a friend who works at the health department and this isn’t going away. We’re still dealing with it.”

One of the toughest parts of being in the COVID-19 unit is the limited one-on-one contact with patients, Solaro said. Nurses must limit the number of times they enter a room because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) required for entering the room. “We all feel like bad nurses sometimes because we don’t go in as often to assess patients in order to limit exposure,” Solaro said. “It’s hard because sometimes we’re their only human contact.”

Heather Walters, a December 2019 graduate who works in the Parkview Medical ICU, says the early days of dealing with the pandemic were the toughest.

“Being a new nurse and being in the ICU, I was already stressed from that,” Walters said. “I was way overwhelmed with this, wanting to cry because I didn’t think I was doing enough. But I saw nurses with 20-plus years also crying so it was scary for everyone.”

Walters has two young children, so she worried at first about possibly bringing the virus home to them. She said she has learned to trust the PPE she uses and to make sure she never skips a step in taking protective measures.

Walters encourages people to continuing following the precautions of social distancing and wear a mask in public settings. She has refrained from visiting her immunocompromised grandmother in person since the pandemic to protect her grandmother’s health.

“As terrible as all of this is, and I wish it never happened, but I’m kind of grateful that this is how I’m starting out, dealing with the most critical and highest acuity we’ll have,” she said. “It definitely hits home, the seriousness you see with one-on-one patients.”

Solaro says nurses are saddened by the isolation the COVID-19 patients must endure along with the brutal challenges of fighting the virus.

But she also sees hope.

“You don’t hear too much about the positive,” Solaro said, before sharing a story of a patient recovering after weeks of fighting the virus. “When we found out (the patient) was finally able to leave, we did a parade for him around the unit, wheeling him around the unit where we had hanging signs and balloons. He was a success story and it was amazing because we didn’t think he was going to make it at first.”

Schwartz speaks for most nurses when she describes her vocation as a calling, despite these difficult and unprecedented times to start her career.

“It is a lot of work and it is stressful, and I know each one of my coworkers would say the same thing,” Schwartz said. “We go home with that same stress we carry to work. Saint Francis prepared me as much as it could have, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what we’re going through.”