Nurses were working 12-hour shifts during the height of the pandemic – all without a lunch break. Hesitant about work schedules and stress, Claire Sproule almost chose a career other than that of a nurse.

However, the 20-year-old UF junior nurse decided to stay in the nursing program despite the difficulties faced by her colleagues.

“It also puts into perspective how much healthcare workers are heroes,” Sproule said. “It inspires me even more.”

COVID-19 cases have increased and patients stacked at UF Health Shands Hospital throughout the pandemic. But difficult circumstances did not deter students like Sproule from pursuing their dreams.

In July, the wave of Delta variants hit Shands with a dramatic increase in hospitalizations with patients with more severe symptoms, said Nicolás Kattán, deputy chief of Shands’ hospital medicine division. The hospital has prioritized beds for COVID-19 patients over those who are not infected.

“It’s been a total of three crazy months,” Kattán said.

When COVID-19 patients arrive, staff cannot escape the emotional scars that accompany the impacts of the virus.

Patients are told they will be on oxygen when they arrive in the COVID-19 unit, Kattán said.

If patients need more oxygen, they are transferred to the intermediate care unit, where there are more nurses available. In more extreme circumstances, patients are transferred to the intensive care unit to be intubated and connected to a ventilator. If a patient is not ready to exit the device, they are in a coma for an additional 24 hours.

Patients may refuse life support, which puts them at additional risk, Kattán said.

“This conversation really kicks people off,” Kattán said. “Will this be the last time I can talk to my family?” Will I be able to leave the hospital?

With the added challenges of the pandemic, staff have had to work after their shifts, intensive care nurse Shuyun Shi said.

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“You just say, ‘If I can stay here for another 10 minutes and do what I can, it can make a difference,” said Shi.

Shi is frustrated to see patients die when vaccines could have reduced the severity of their infection. Nurses have drawn closer to their colleagues to deal with losses under pressure.

“We had to work long shifts; we had to do without water breaks; go without food because we were so busy, ”Shi said. “And we all looked out for each other and we managed to pull through.”

The pandemic has caused Ashley Parrish, a 29-year-old nursing student at Santa Fe College, to reconsider her career. Her hesitation stemmed from what she saw as less empathetic healthcare workers who politicized the virus.

“There should be no bias when it comes to providing health care to individuals,” Parrish said. “Everyone deserves equal treatment.

To stay motivated, healthy students should remember what sparked their passion, Parrish said.

“You just have to think about what kind of regrets you would have if you changed your career path decision based on a temporary problem,” Parrish said.

The pandemic, however, has motivated some aspiring medical professionals even more.

Pratham Pinni, a 19-year-old second-year UF health sciences student, said he was more motivated to become a doctor after seeing how essential doctors were during shortages of medical personnel.

“It’s almost like a precious resource,” Pinni said. “It sounds tough now, but if you can get through it you’ve basically helped so many people. A doctor can save so many lives.

Contact JP Oprison at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.

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JP Oprison

JP is in his fourth year of journalism with a minor in history. He is currently a health reporter for The Alligator, focusing on how the pandemic is affecting Alachua County and the thousands of students in Gainesville. In his spare time, JP enjoys working out at the gym and relaxing on the beach.

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