They are often the unsung heroes of the health-care system. But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown health-care workers into the spotlight at the same time the United Nations declared 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
The spotlight is even bigger this week, May 11 to 17, as it is National Nursing Week in Canada.
In response to the pandemic, TRU’s School of Nursing made adaptations to get qualified graduates into the workforce as quickly as possible, to continue educating students who are in the midst of their programs and to upgrade nurses who have been out of the workforce.
Students in their fourth and final year who were already in practicums were assessed. Many had their practicums finish early and, if they demonstrated the required competencies, moved into the workforce.
“It depended on the individual student’s situation. There was no reason not to end early. Safety and learning weren’t compromised,” said School of Nursing Dean Rani Srivastava.
“We’re working with students to help them get into the workforce in whatever capacity they can. Some are graduating early, some are working as health-care aides or as student nurses. We looked at each student cohort and their level of competence,” she said.
“They are working in whatever capacity they can be.”
Some students, like Rashmi Gulia in Victoria, took their nursing courses through TRU Open Learning so they didn’t have to change cities to get their degrees. She completed her program on March 17 and began working for a Victoria long-term-care home three days later.
Vancouver Island has had a low incidence of COVID-19 cases and Gulia said staff follow the protocols for personal protective equipment.
“We are super cautious,” she said.
She still has an exam to write with the BC College of Nursing Professionals, so she is working casual hours while she studies for that. But demand for nurses is strong, and Gulia has turned down additional job offers while focusing on that exam.
Every nursing student is not just coming to grips with COVID-19 professionally, but is also dealing with the personal impacts of the virus. Srivastava said they are working on the frontlines under stressful conditions; adapting to online courses instead of in-person learning; working around having children at home who would have been in school or daycare; caring for family members; and coping with financial duress due to lost side jobs that help pay for school.
“As students, they’ve done incredibly well,” she said. “We’ve worked with faculty to support them.”
Even with few people remaining on campus, TRU is recognizing the frontline work being done by health-care workers. The Old Main building is illuminated with pink lights, while the North Tower stands out with a rainbow of lighting colours.
Srivastava said the School of Nursing faculty and students have reason to be proud year-round, but especially this week.
“Overall, our students have been amazing. They’ve adapted really well to changing circumstances around them,” Srivastava said. “Our faculty are focussed on teaching, but they’re also recognized as nurse leaders and researchers.”
This year’s theme for Nursing week is Nurses: A Voice to Lead — Nursing the World to Health. It’s a fitting theme for the TRU School of Nursing as faculty and students will be starting the next school year with a new, state-of-the-art Nursing and Population Health building on the Kamloops campus.