From student to RN during COVID-19

Instead of being an astronaut or a ballerina for Halloween, Natasha Nett chose to be her version of a superhero: a nurse. Just like her mom.

Her mother’s profession had a big influence on Nett back in first grade and she has her old costume to show for it. Now, as a fresh college graduate, she has earned the title of a Registered Nurse to prove that it wasn’t just a phase.

Despite dressing up as her version of a superhero as a kid, nothing has made her feel more like one as an adult than working as a new nurse during a worldwide pandemic.

COVID-19 to a new nurse is equivalent to Superman’s kryptonite. But with every weakness comes great strength, and Nett had to experience the former in order to get to the latter, all within her first few months working as a full-time nurse after graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato’s nursing program back in May of 2021.

Facing the weaknesses

The first one came right before Nett graduated when she realized that she — along with the rest of her class — wasn’t fully prepared to enter the field.

Due to COVID-19, the graduating class of May 2021 from MNSU’s nursing program were robbed of crucial in-person and hands-on training.

“Prior to the March 2020 lockdown, I saw my classmates [within the program] nearly every day,” Nett says. “March 2020 was the last time we were all together as a cohort and for in-person classes. Many of our clinicals were interrupted or cancelled.”

As a result, Nett says, “We felt like we had very little experience going into the field.”

Then, when she entered the field, Nett noticed that a majority of nurses around her were experiencing burnout.

With inadequate staffing, excessive workloads, and demanding work schedules — all during a time when medical professionals are needed the most — nurses are feeling the weight of it all.

“With the hospitals being at max capacity and so short staffed, many places have been requiring nurses to work overtime,” Nett says. “My coworkers who have been required to pick up extra shifts are mentally and physically exhausted, and most of them are only a year into nursing. This is frightening to see such new nurses already showing signs of burnout.”

As for a new nurse like herself, the biggest challenge Nett has faced so far in her young career is simply adjusting to her new role.

As with any job, new hires have to navigate their way around the workplace and learn how to prioritize and delegate tasks. But for new nurses working at a hospital during a pandemic, that’s easier said than done.

“The workload is an adjustment and it is very difficult to do everything by yourself,” Nett says. “Learning to ask for help has been hard but very necessary.”

She did just that. She asked for help, navigated her new workplace, and overcame the initial weaknesses she encountered all in hopes of “making a positive difference in people’s lives,” according to Nett.

Finding the strength

When Nett entered the field lacking clinical experience, she was welcomed by subordinates who were understanding of her situation and were willing to give her a chance.

Although she felt a bit unprepared to start working, she realized she wouldn’t be doing it alone.

“During my hiring interview, I asked about the orientation process and if they were understanding of what my experience during nursing school was and how it may affect my adjustment into actual nursing,” Nett says. “My unit manager was extremely understanding and willing to extend my orientation if I needed it. It was important to me that my manager recognized what we [recent nursing graduates] experienced and was willing to adapt.”

However, she argues that the best way to learn is by being thrown into the action. 

“That’s how I’ve adjusted to nursing so quickly despite minimal clinical experience,” Nett says.

So, in the end, what she thought would be her greatest weakness was actually her greatest advantage.

She also found support within the community of nurses around her, both new and old, because when COVID-19 was isolating the rest of the world, strangely enough, it was bringing nurses together.

“I think the sense of community and support among nurses during this time is amazing,” Nett says. “We’re all navigating through something we’ve never experienced before and we really only have each other that understands. Even though I’m new to the field, I can already see how COVID-19 has caused nurses to count on each other during a time of need.”

When she first began working at Saint Mary’s Hospital, also known as Mayo Clinic’s hospital in the inpatient Family Medicine unit, the nurses in her unit were nothing but kind and welcoming. 

“They all work as such a great team and are constantly helping each other out,” Nett says.

With that support, she gained wisdom from her more seasoned peers.

When it comes to managing burnout, Nett says, “It’s about putting yourself before your job.”

She continues on to say, “It’s extremely important to realize it’s not selfish to not pick up extra shifts a ton, especially if doing so is damaging to your mental health. My coworkers have set a great example so far on being willing to say no and putting themselves first.”

After all, in Nett’s words, “You can’t properly care for others if you are not caring for yourself first.”

At the end of the day, she wouldn’t trade what she does for anything else or change the circumstances the world was in when she began.

“I’m so grateful to be able to help out during a pandemic,” Nett says. “If anything, a time like this has made me more encouraged to work in the healthcare field.”

Natasha Nett proudly works as a Registered Nurse during a time where nurses are in high demand.

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