Nurses worked 12-hour shifts at the height of the pandemic — all without lunch breaks. Hesitant of the work hours and stress, Claire Sproule almost chose a different career path than nursing.
The 20-year-old UF nursing junior, however, decided to stay in the nursing program despite the hardships her coworkers faced.
“It also just puts into perspective how health care workers are heroes,” Sproule said. “That inspires me even more.”
COVID-19 cases surged, and patients piled up at UF Health Shands Hospital throughout the pandemic. But tough circumstances haven't deterred students like Sproule from pursuing their dreams.
In July, the Delta variant surge hit Shands with dramatic increases in hospitalizations with patients facing harsher symptoms, said Nicolás Kattán, associate chief for the Division of Hospital Medicine at Shands. The hospital prioritized beds for COVID-19 patients over those not infected.
“It’s been a total of three months of craziness,” Kattán said.
When COVID-19 patients arrive, staff can’t escape the emotional scars that come with seeing the virus’ impacts.
Patients are told they’ll be on oxygen when they arrive in the COVID-19 unit, Kattán said.
If patients need more oxygen, they’re moved into the Intermediate Care Unit, where there are more nurses available. In more extreme circumstances, patients are moved into the Intensive Care Unit to be intubated and hooked to a ventilator. If a patient isn’t ready to come off the machine, they’re induced into a coma for another 24 hours.
Patients can refuse life support, which puts them at further risk, Kattán said.
“That conversation really kicks people on the teeth,” Kattán said. “Is this going to be the last time I can talk to my family? Am I going to be able to come out of the hospital?”
With the pandemic’s added challenges, staff have had to work past their shifts, ICU nurse Shuyun Shi said.
“You just say, ‘If I can stay in here for an extra 10 minutes and do what I can, it may make a difference,’” Shi said.
Shi feels frustrated to witness patients die when vaccines could’ve curbed the severity of their infection. Nurses bonded with coworkers to cope with the losses amid pressure.
“We had to work long shifts; we had to go without water breaks; go without food because we were so busy,” Shi said. “And we all looked out for each other and got through it.”
The pandemic caused Ashley Parrish, a 29-year-old Santa Fe College nursing student, to reconsider her career. Her hesitancy stemmed from what she viewed as unempathetic health care workers who politicized the virus.
“There should be no bias when it comes to providing health care for individuals,” Parrish said. “Everybody deserves equal treatment.”
To stay motivated, health students should remember what sparked their passion, Parrish said.
“You just have to think about what kind of regrets you would have if you changed your career path decision based on a temporary issue,” Parrish said.
The pandemic, however, motivated some aspiring health care professionals even more.
Pratham Pinni, a 19-year-old UF health science sophomore, said he’s more motivated to become a doctor after witnessing how essential doctors were during shortages of medical staff.
“It’s almost like a precious resource,” Pinni said. “It seems hard now, but if you can go through it, then you basically helped so many people. One doctor can save so many lives.”
Contact J.P. Oprison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.
JP is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in history. He is currently the health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his free time, JP likes to exercise at the gym and relax on the beach.