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Nursing students are struggling to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and aren’t receiving much support

By: Maxine Juneau, Contributor

There is no question that the shift to online classes and the COVID-19 pandemic have hit students hard this semester. Many are struggling to adjust to the new format and keep up with the course expectations despite the inability to access in-person student support and resources. Nursing and midwifery students are in an especially unique position this year as many continue to have in-person clinical placements. 

At the start of the pandemic, there were questions on whether or not nursing students would proceed with in-person placements. With practical skills and patient interaction being such a vital part of the program, many students questioned if we would even be able to meet program requirements without clinical experience. More questions arose as other nursing schools across the province announced that they would be transitioning to virtual placements.

However, the Faculty of Nursing at McMaster University moved forward with level three and four placements starting on schedule in the fall term and level two placements starting in the winter term. While many students are grateful to have the opportunity to work on the frontlines, others are struggling to meet the challenges and stresses that COVID-19 presents. 

In a recent Spotted at Mac post, an anonymous nursing student asked if anyone else was feeling uncomfortable about in-person clinical placements with COVID-19 cases spiking. They expressed how they were worried because a classmate had recently caught COVID at their placement.

While these fears are perfectly valid, fellow nursing students and recent graduates were quick to remind them that they had “signed up for it.” Many replied with comments such as, “well, as long as you wear your personal protective equipment, you will be okay.” 

These kinds of comments that say this is “part of the job” are dismissive of the ways that COVID has negatively impacted nursing students. They don’t even begin to recognize that some students may not have a choice in whether or not they can take a semester off. While as students we decided to go into the semester knowing that COVID would be a factor, nobody could have predicted the different ways that it has impacted us.

This pandemic has affected the mental health of many students, including nursing students. Students are worried about catching COVID at clinical and passing it along to their family and friends. They are also worried about accidentally bringing it into the clinical setting or passing it between patients and why shouldn’t they be? They are seeing friends and family catch it, they are seeing patients suffer from it and they are seeing outbreaks on their own units.

Students are worried about catching COVID at clinical and passing it along to their family and friends. They are also worried about accidentally bringing it into the clinical setting or passing it between patients and why shouldn’t they be? They are seeing friends and family catch it, they are seeing patients suffer from it and they are seeing outbreaks on their own units.

Clinical anxiety is something that many students experience even during a normal year. Lying awake in bed the night before not being able to get a wink of sleep, feeling like you’re going to throw up from nerves when you step on the floor. Even having to take a deep breath to slow your heart before going into a patient’s room are all normal parts of being a nursing student. Now, the fears and anxieties of COVID have been added on top and students are struggling to cope.

Even many registered nurses these days are struggling to cope with the stresses of COVID-19. The International Council of Nurses recently reported that nurses with COVID patients suffer from burnout and psychological distress. Many health care workers, including health science students, have had to face the pandemic while also self-isolating from friends and families. Even with all the public support for health care workers, there is no denying the mental health pressures this pandemic has brought.

Yes, masks help. Yes, we made the decision to go into this semester. Yes, it is part of the nurse’s role. Still, we are nursing students first and foremost. Many of us are still learning to cope with the pressures of the clinical setting. Many of us are still just trying to keep up with classes. Now, we are being asked to put on a brave front and face the pandemic head-on? Nursing students are struggling to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and more needs to be done to support them.

To any nursing students that are reading this, I want to let you know that you are not alone. Any fears and anxieties you may be having are completely valid and there are many of us who stand beside you. If you ever need someone to talk to there are resources out there for you. We are all in this together and never feel afraid to reach out!

Mental health resources:

→ Good2Talk — https://good2talk.ca/
→ McMaster University Student Wellness Centre — https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/ 
→ Wellness Together Canada — https://ca.portal.gs/
→ Barrett Centre for Crisis Support — https://www.goodshepherdcentres.ca/services/barrett-centre-for-crisis-support/

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