Following an intense semester of obstacles and adaptation, Sam Houston State University’s nursing graduates are prepared to enter the front lines of COVID-19. In the long run, many believe that this challenging experience has better prepared them for their future.
To recent Sam Houston State University nursing graduate Brianna Beigel, graduating at this time feels “surreal.”
“It doesn’t really feel real with all of the COVID drama, but I’m excited,” Brianna Beigel said.
Beigel has a job lined up with Baylor Scott and White in Marble Falls on the medical surgical floor and likely will not encounter any COVID patients as they are kept in ICU.
Beigel had been wanting a small town to transfer to after graduation and remembered childhood vacations in the Hill Country. The area was slow to shut down from COVID-19 and she considers herself lucky to have found the position while many of her peers’ immediate employment statuses are left in jeopardy.
“I’m one of the more fortunate ones in my nursing class, a lot of my peers are from the Houston area, I know it was a little bit harder with COVID to try to get a graduate nurse job lined up,” Beigel said. “A lot of the hospitals’ nurse residencies (in Houston) got canceled pretty early on.”
Fellow Sam Houston nursing graduate Kimberly Carrillo will be entering the workforce in the Houston area, the epicenter of Texas’ reported COVID-19 infections.
Going into the workforce in a city that has been majorly impacted by the virus, Carrillo is feeling “a little nervous,” however due to her education at Sam Houston, she feels prepared.
“I won’t be necessarily working in a COVID unit … I’m more working with moms and kids, families, but I wouldn’t know, so many people could be carrying it,” Kimberly Carrillo said. “All of the unknowns and the fear – I have children at home so that brings a whole different side to things. My one son voiced concerns and said, ‘mom, you’re risking your life.’”
However, Carrillo notes that especially in a city as impacted as Houston, contact with the virus could happen anywhere in their daily lives.
“My biggest concern was the fear of not having a job,” Carrillo said, noting that she’s been directly affected by graduate nursing programs being delayed indefinitely in the Houston area.
When nurses graduate from nursing school, they still have a lot to learn and typically won’t take on their own patients for six months to a year and will undergo further education and training at their jobs post graduation.
“For them to take time away from caring for COVID patients and to put their efforts towards training us, it would be really stressful on the hospital,” Beigel said. “It takes a long time to make a nurse, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
The last semester of school was “rocky” for Beigel and her peers as curriculum quickly changed and clinical work ended early.
“Because of COVID, it was challenging but we were able to persevere and overcome it,” Sam Houston State University school of nursing assistant director Dr. Desha Johnson Makiya said.
“For the graduating seniors cohort, we chose to convert to Zoom and use a synchronous platform because we felt it was a close mirror to face-to-face courses,” Johnson Makiya said.
While students were able to receive all of the planned content for the semester, those who were unable to complete their direct chair contact hours were assisted by Governor Abbott’s proclamation lifting the requirements for those hours. The program moved forward with virtual simulations and case studies to help meet their course objectives.
“I really enjoyed when we had to finish up our clinical hours in the virtual setting, we had to do a lot of training through the World Health Organization. They provided a lot of COVID training that we had to go through and that counted as clinical hours, but at the same time we were learning and preparing what to expect in the hospital settings when we get out there in the world,” Carrillo said.
Additionally, a town hall meeting was held for students, addressing stress and anxiety with clinical faculty members, practice nurses and course faculty to discuss infectious control processes and reinforce the curriculum preparing them for what lies ahead.
They also gained hands-on experience screening hospital employees going into shifts as part of their clinical work at the beginning of the pandemic.
“To take part of that and just to sit back and see how these hospitals were handling the pandemic is very interesting. It’s something we haven't gone through so it’s new to everybody,” Carrillo said.
Because of COVID-19, being able to devise a plan that could successfully meet course objectives and still have students graduate on time was a challenge, according to Johnson Makiya. However with a strong team, lots of brainstorming, following the Texas Board of Nurses and the regulatory body of recommendations, the SHSU nursing program faculty was able to put a plan together on short notice.
“It was a quick turn around from the time a decision was made to go virtual, to actually activating it and then to communicating that plan to the students,” Johnson Makiya said.
“I do think this situation kind of embodies what a nurse is, which is being adaptable and unafraid … I saw that side of a lot of my professors that I had never seen of them before, like being adaptable and just going more with the flow,” Beigel said. “Growing up, you see your teachers as perfect and they know everything … this situation highlighted that we’re all human. They didn't know how to address a pandemic like this, so they did their best and I appreciate their efforts.”
The SHSU graduating nurses concluded the program on April 30 and despite an obstacle outside of anyone’s control, have made the best of the given situation.
“I do think that my education wasn’t as strong as I was expecting it to be this last semester, but at the same time, it’s kind of what you make it,” Beigel said. “Even though a bunch of things are online, it’s up to the student to practice on your family members or your dog … it definitely took a lot more discipline and perseverance.”
In the long run, Beigel believes it may turn out to have been a good experience for her to have gone through.
“No situation is expected in nursing, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise that COVID threw everything off because that embodies the spirit of nursing,” Beigel said.
“They showed great resilience, they showed patience and understanding … I feel they are equipped to be successful,” Johnson Makiya said.
Beigel is one of the few graduate nurses who will be able to begin work in July, however many, especially those in the Houston area, are still on hold.
“I don’t really know what to expect, but I don’t feel scared. I feel like I’m prepared in the sense that I can research, that I can be independent and a critical thinker, and I think Sam Houston did a wonderful job of molding me into that kind of mindset,” Beigel said. “Do I completely understand COVID? No, but am I scared of it? No, I’m ready.”