Posted on: May 12, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

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By Mike Pocza, JRN 111 Student

For more than two years, nurses across the country have been living in survival mode. Burnout, anxiety and depression have won the battle over many of them, leading them to leave the profession and creating a vicious circle in which understaffing leads to increased burnout.

“In talking with nurses and others on the health care team, I hear over and over, ‘I don’t think I can do it again,’” said Judith Corcoran, a nursing professor at Moraine who has 23 years of experience in ER and critical care. “Many caregivers are still struggling with the trauma of what they experienced.”

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Nursing students are going into the profession at a really difficult time, considering another COVID surge can happen anytime. With these students seeing so many people that work in their future career give up, how are they supposed to keep pushing forward?

More than one-third of nurses (34 percent) say it’s very likely that they will leave their roles by the end of 2022, and 44 percent cited burnout and a high-stress environment as the reason for their desire to leave, according to a new survey by staffing firm Incredible Health.

Ikram Kamal, a nursing student at Moraine, who is also a certified nursing assistant, has witnessed this firsthand with colleagues who were forced to help out COVID patients even if they weren’t in that unit. 

“A lot of the people I worked with left. And the sad part is that none of the higher ups or hospital itself cared to keep or acknowledge the hard work put in.” Kamal said. “I’ve stuck it out and learned a lot….the biggest thing I learned is that everything by the book goes out the window and it becomes survival mode in real-life.”

Kelli Nickols, department chair of Moraine Valley’s highly regarded nursing program, acknowledges that nurses were “for a while overworked and underpaid,” but sees reason to be optimistic about the field: “Now things are much better in the hospitals. The staffing has gotten better, nurse-to-patient ratio is a lot better, and then we’ve all had to learn to adapt to all the changes and just know that at any point things can just change again.”

The program works to prepare nurses for the stress they will encounter in the profession and to help them adapt when faced with situations they haven’t seen before.

Second-semester nursing student Dawn Gallagher said Moraine is preparing her and her classmates for their next step.

“The workload that we get for school feels like it will help us be able to prioritize time management for when we are actual nurses,” she said.

Moraine Valley’s nursing program uses virtual reality to simulate stressful situations nurses will face on the job.

Moraine nursing students are put into highly stressful scenarios to prepare them for the real world. They work together when operating on mannequins that can simulate situations seen in the ER, while professors use microphones to yell at students through the mannequin’s mouth.

This creates a very stressful environment for the students because so much is going on at once. The chaos of the situation is meant to prepare students for dealing with stress on the job.

“The program also teaches us well on how to work as a team,” Gallagher said. Nursing nowadays is a team effort.” 

Students use each other as resources to help each other with labs and homework, and Nickols is an outlet for any student that she feels needs extra help.

“If we as teachers see a student that we may think needs additional resources, we have one-on-one conversations with the student,” she said. “I have invited counseling services into my department meetings with the faculty to make sure everyone’s on the same page because we don’t want a student left behind.”

Jemina Doon, a second-semester nursing student, has found these resources helpful and is doing better since her first semester. 

“I was able to have teacher-student connections which help me understand their teaching techniques,” Doon said. “I’ve made real friends that I can count on and a friendship (professionally) with my professors.”

Nursing department chair Kelli Nickols provides extra resources for students who need them.

The future nurses hope Moraine’s training will prepare them for a field being pushed to the brink, with anxiety of not knowing when the pandemic will truly end and patients adding more stress on nurses at times.

“Adults are so difficult, and I’m not even talking about the physical aspect,” Kamal says. “The attitude I get sometimes about their care is baffling to me.”

Corcoran said she’s not currently working bedside with patients, but she goes two days a week to a local hospital with her nursing students during their clinicals. 

“I can tell you during the surges, the increased stress was palpable at times.” Corcoran said.  “Although the added hands were helpful, new faces and unfamiliarity with unit and hospital policies, procedures and practices at times added to the stress.”

But when she sees Moraine Valley nursing students working hard to prepare for their careers, Corcoran is optimistic about the future.

“As far as the future, I am motivated by our students,” Corcoran said. “Their enthusiasm and willingness to enter a profession that is demanding from a cognitive, physical, and emotional perspective humbles me.”