1. Sgroi, Alicia BSN, RN


A new nurse learns focus and grace under pressure.


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"What a time to become a nurse" is a statement I've heard many times. I started working as an RN in February 2020 on a medical-surgical unit at a local hospital. After two grueling years of nursing school, I could not have been more excited to start my new career, and I entered this new chapter in my life running at full speed. But at nearly the same time, the world seemed to be coming to a full stop.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustration by Janet Hamlin.

In February, we knew a novel coronavirus was coming, but its impacts were still in question. In March, the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Florida and as a state we haven't looked back since. I couldn't help feeling anxious when I'd see the working conditions of nurses in New York City on the news. As a brand-new nurse, I would have been lying to myself if the thought of being thrown into the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic didn't frighten me.


When my hospital opened its first COVID unit, we were told that team members would be pulled from other units. Now I feel guilty that I had a sense of relief when I heard this. As a newly graduated nurse, I was not eligible to float to other units. I soon began to hear stories from coworkers who had worked on the COVID unit. I found myself picking their brains, asking about what-if scenarios, hoping to gain as much knowledge as I could. Then, as Florida started to open back up last summer and a semblance of normality seemed to be in sight, the number of COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket. With the high volume, the need for hospital beds started to grow. In June, I was told that my unit would be converted to a fully COVID-positive step-down unit.


When I first heard the news, I had endless questions and worries. I'd only been a nurse for four months and had just finished orientation a month before. There was-and continues to be-so much to learn. With the goal of limiting exposure to the virus always on my mind, my thoughts today are more focused before I enter my patient's room. Being able to pop in and out of the room for supplies, or even to provide another set of eyes, is something I used to take for granted. Although I've always strived to be prepared, I've quickly learned that when treating COVID patients, not being prepared is not an option. As I begin to put on my personal protective equipment, I am constantly trying to anticipate the patient's needs and any clinical scenarios I may face. Making sure my N95 mask is on correctly, with a surgical mask covering it; remembering my face shield, isolation gown, booties to cover my shoes, hairnet, and gloves; and double-washing my hands because I can't remember if I already washed them have all become part of my new routine.


All of these extra steps, questions, and worries constantly run through my mind, yet when I walk into my patient's room, I can't help feeling a sense of ease. I'm surprised to find that, despite all of my worry beforehand, I feel comfortable and calm when caring for my patients.


Last week, I lost my first patient from complications of COVID-19. Since visitors were not allowed in the hospital, I could only empathize with the sense of isolation and loneliness she must have felt. Although she received comfort care measures and died peacefully, I was the last person in this world to hold her hand-not her family or her loved ones, but me, a complete stranger. I can only hope I gave her a sense of comfort before she died as I reassured her that she was not alone. I can only hope that if this patient were my family member and I couldn't be there, someone would hold her hand. Although my heart breaks for these patients, I hope that with me as their nurse they never feel alone.


My biggest worry when I became a new nurse was the thought of having to take care of COVID-19 patients and not knowing what to do. Yet I have spent the last month caring solely for them, and I can't imagine doing anything else. I know the compassion and preparedness I've learned in this short period will stay with me throughout my career as a nurse. Being able to practice what I love while making a difference in the lives of my patients gives me an overall feeling of content and assures me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. In fact, these are all reasons why I became a nurse in the first place. So, to the people who say to me, "What a time to become a nurse"-I couldn't agree more. What a time to become a nurse indeed!