Megan Vaites, RN, graduated from the Nursing Program at Community College of Allegheny County, Allegheny Campus, in May 2020. I met Megan when we both worked in the Marketing Department of a global technology firm headquartered in Pittsburgh. We had kept in touch via social media, and for National Nurses Week, I thought she would give SimTalk™ Blog readers a great view into how nursing students and nurses are fulfilling the theme to lead, excel, and innovate.
PN: What made you want to become a nurse?
MV: I come from a long line of nurses. My mom is a retired nurse administrator. I watched her work and witnessed her dedication. I saw how a nursing career has so many opportunities and how you can make a huge difference.
I remember my mom saying one day after 40-plus years of nursing, “There hasn’t been one day that I have gotten up and dreaded going to work.” Not too many people can say that, and that’s pretty darn inspiring.
My first career was graphic design and marketing. I never liked it. Unlike my mom, I dreaded going to work most days. I thought about going back to school for years, but I was married, we had started a family, and those were my top my priority. In the back of my mind, however, I always thought about going back to school for nursing.
One day I was talking to my grandmother, who had gone to school in her 40s to become a nurse, and she said to me, “Megan, you are one of the best moms I know. But one day those kids will be gone out of the house and you need to do something to fulfill you. You have never liked this career. Find what fulfills you.” That week I signed up for prerequisite classes. Going back to school, nursing school especially, was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I am so glad I did it. I should have done it from the start, but better late than never!
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your education? What is something (or things) you feel your institution and instructors did well to adjust to the changes in education and nursing?
COVID-19 boiled up right in the middle of our last semester of nursing school. We were to start our “transition assignment,” which is about five weeks working alongside a registered nurse (RN) in their position, on their schedule, taking care of patients. This is when you get a ton of hands-on experience. That was all cancelled.
All of our transition time went online, where we were assigned to virtual classes about patient care. They were good for learning and studying, but didn’t give us hands-on clinical skills. It was nowhere close to the experience we were to get in person with patients in the hospital setting. Online classes don’t help with time management, charting experience, and all the running you need to do in between direct care of a patient. So, by the time we were done with our final semester, we all felt a bit behind. Although, we were very glad to know we were going to graduate on time! It was all so crazed and up in the air, with dates and information changing every day.
I think CCAC did the best they could communicating what was going on with our program, classes, and upcoming graduation. I’m sure it wasn’t easy dealing with the logistics and information that seemed to change on the hour.
We did miss out on a typical graduation. We never had our pinning ceremony, never had our composite photos, never got any of those traditional nursing milestones to end our schooling. One day I just received my diploma in the mail, with my nursing pin, and a copy of a Florence Nightingale poem.
What was your biggest challenge to becoming a nurse for you (besides the pandemic)?
I have a husband who works full time as an elementary school teacher, and three busy children who were 8, 13, and 16 when I started. I also continued to work in my original career. I worked full-time while I got my prerequisite classes done, and then started full-time nursing school and worked part-time hours. Time was my biggest challenge during nursing school. I never felt like I had enough.
My husband was such a trooper and a huge help and support. My mom was also a huge help to us, as well as my daily go-to for questions, advice, and venting. I was blessed to have a lot of supportive people around me; family, friends, classmates, coworkers, my boss even, all were so very supportive of me reaching my goal. I spent many late nights and long weekends doing nothing but studying. It was rough. My family definitely gave up normalcy for a few years.
Are you working as a nurse now?
Yes, I work full-time at a local Pittsburgh hospital on an orthopedic floor. Our patients range from elective joint replacement surgeries, back surgeries, and fractures, to medical patients being seen for other things. In a 12-hour shift, I usually cover eight to ten patients.
How did you feel about your decision to become a nurse as the pandemic started, then continued?
At first, I was concerned about the unknown. As everyone is aware, information was constantly changing while numbers just kept increasing. All I was concerned about was staying safe and keeping my family safe. Information on the virus still changes pretty regularly but the vaccine has us relaxing a bit. Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Get vaccinated! 😊
What is the most challenging thing about nursing during the pandemic?
The continually changing guidelines. But I get it. We just need to keep on top of them. This was a brand-new coronavirus. Things change as the scientists and researchers learn more. It’s how it goes. We just have to keep on top of it and do whatever it takes to squash this thing. I am not involved in any direct care of patients with COVID-19, so I would say my biggest challenge, personally, is wearing a mask and eye gear all the time at work. Those things take a toll on your face and ears. But what a small price to pay for safety.
Another challenge is the low/decreasing staff numbers. When nurses are out sick or resign, that takes a huge toll on the remaining staff left to cover more with less. Burnout is real.
Does the vaccine roll-out make you feel hopeful?
Absolutely! As well as the number of vaccines that have been distributed so far. Now 16–18-year-old kids can get the vaccine. I just read that Pfizer may get approved to be given to 12–15-year-old kids. That is huge. Please, please, please everyone, get the vaccine!
What would you tell fellow nurses now?
I see you. I hear you. We do extremely hard work. Hang in there, take one day at a time, and take care of yourself! (I say, on very little sleep, no exercise in days, while drinking coffee, and eating a very unhealthy breakfast!)
Oh, and be nice to those new nurses! We all started some place. We need each other. Build each other up! (Can we tell that to nursing professors and clinical instructors, too?)
What piece of advice would you give to nursing students now?
I have so many things to tell them! Tell them to call me.
Today, I’ll tell them what my grandmother told me about nursing school: “It is hard. There will be many days you will want to quit. I had many days I wanted to quit. Do not quit.” Take one day at a time. You will get it done.
Pocket Nurse® wants to thank Megan and all the nursing students and nurses like her. Without question, this pandemic has taken a toll, and we want to reach out to celebrate, encourage, and praise nurses, nursing students, and nurse educators for all you do. Happy National Nurses Week!