On Saturday, nurses chat with nursing students at the National Student Nurses’ Association convention in Salt Lake City. The panel addressed the convention’s theme, “Behold the Heroes.” (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Amy Christensen told nursing students on Saturday about her experience of constant work during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure nurses had protective gear, ventilators were on the best locations and that the 24 hospitals she oversees had the nursing staff they needed.
Intermountain Healthcare’s chief nurse said the second year had been worse as people grew tired of hearing about COVID-19 and took out their frustrations on the nurses. They were no longer seen as heroes, she said, and people were often angry and hurtful.
Due to the pandemic, Christensen said nurses have learned a lot about how to treat patients and ease burdens.
“It warms my heart, and I couldn’t be prouder than I am right now to be a nurse,” she told future nurses.
She told the students that the future was bright and that they would not regret choosing to become nurses.
Nursing students from across the country gathered in Salt Lake City this week for the National Student Nurses’ Association convention. The students were able to learn from people in the nursing profession, meet hospital recruiters and interact with other students.
The conference theme “Behold the Heroes” was chosen by the students of the conference planning committee. Camila Fred, who is the chair of the committee, said they chose the theme because they wanted to honor all the work done by nurses during the pandemic.
“We just want students to embrace the identity they’re going to assume as a nurse and really grow into that identity and look forward to the position they’re going to be in a few years from now,” Fred mentioned.
Fred is a sophomore in nursing school at Florida Atlantic University. She said she was very happy to see people in person and to make connections.
There were 1,200 conference registrants at the Salt Palace Convention Center, in addition to exhibitors and sponsors. The organization has 60,000 members nationwide.
The goal of the National Nurses Association, according to Fred, is to help students learn professionalism and supplement what they learn in school. Some of the issues discussed at the conference were influencing health policy, incorporating climate change into health learning, LGBTQ health, and how to use naloxone or Narcan to reverse an overdose.
“It’s important for student nurses to know how to stand up for themselves and the things that matter in this profession,” Fred said.
She said the last in-person convention in 2019 was also held in Salt Lake City, but was held in various cities across the country to make it easier for different students to attend.
During a panel at the conference’s closing ceremony, nurses, including Christensen, spoke about the challenges they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. They talked about seeing people die, dealing with patients who resisted the rules – especially about visitors – and sometimes breaking the rules or going the extra mile to help someone.
Giselle Melendez, nurse leader at a New York hospital, said nurses don’t enter the profession to be heroes, but because they want to care for others. She said no one in New York knew how to respond to the pandemic and they were hit hard from the start. She noted that each nurse’s experience dealing with the pandemic is unique and different.
“As nursing students, you enter the profession at a crucial time. Due to the pandemic, many nurses have chosen to change career paths. Nurses are not the only heroes during this pandemic, nursing students, you are heroes too. Melendez said.
She said many of them had to learn or do clinics under difficult circumstances.
Megan Parr, a nurse in the emergency department at Utah Valley Hospital, explained how difficult it was for her to constantly adapt to all the COVID-19 policies and interact with people who sometimes abused her verbal and mental.
“One of the biggest challenges for me is exhausting a career that I once loved,” Parr told nursing students.
She now spends half her time in an educational role, so she has less time as a trauma nurse in the ER.
Parr said she would always encourage new nurses to consider working in emergency departments. She encouraged new nurses to embark on all possible experiences, but make sure they protect themselves and patients while learning.
Parr told nursing students at the conference, especially those who had an atypical experience in nursing school due to COVID-19, to speak up when asked to do something they don’t. ‘they still don’t feel safe and ask for more training.