Date Published: December 15th, 2020
How has the pandemic affected the working life of nurses? Here’s one perspective from a traveling nurse who was working in New York City when COVID-19 cases peaked there last spring.
What’s your name?
Kelsey Allison, RN, MSN
Traveling Pediatric ICU Registered Nurse
How has the pandemic impacted your day-to-day life as a pediatric ICU nurse?
The biggest impact that I felt was the initial decrease in work outside of COVID-focused units. For many nurses during the beginning of the pandemic, shifts decreased or were cancelled altogether. This happened because of mandates such as the suspension of elective surgeries, as well as a reduced number of patients coming into the hospital in general.
At first, my unit experienced similar trends. There were very few kids coming to the pediatric unit of our hospital, and our censuses were super low. In fact, the numbers were low for long enough that my travel contract ended up getting canceled in the middle. Thankfully, I was lucky to land a new contract in NYC. Some of my nurse friends weren’t so lucky – they were unemployed for more than three months, until restrictions were lifted or patient numbers started picking back up.
Today, things are seeming as though they’re nearly back to normal, other than some pediatric nurses sometimes floating to the adult world and helping care for COVID adult patients.
You spent some time working in NYC during the Spring COVID peak. What was that like?
New York City, when I first got there, was crazy and a bit surreal. There were giant refrigerated trucks being used as morgues, and adult patients had taken over at least two and a half units in the children’s hospital because the main hospital was over capacity.
As for the pediatric side, we saw the first few patients with the autoimmune-like, multi-system organ failure response to COVID. Luckily doctors and researchers were quickly able to find suitable treatments for those kids, so their course was pretty straightforward and they recovered quite well. They generally didn’t require long hospital stays.
It has been a really difficult time for a lot of nurses. In fact, a handful of nurses I worked with early on talked about experiences leading up to the height of the pandemic and how they didn’t think they could withstand another surge like that – it would put them over the edge. Some even shared that if it happened again, they would consider leaving nursing or the hospital setting. And yes, some units see more deaths than others on a regular basis, but not like this. Loss after loss adds up. Someone can only see it so many times and for so long before it starts taking a toll on their mental health.
What was something that you learned about the importance and power of nurses during this experience?
Hospitals and doctors could not do what they do without nurses – we run those places!
Nurses are resilient and brave souls. When many were in lockdown, able to shut themselves away from the world and virus, nurses went in head-on caring for sick people and their families. Each and every one of them chose to do it. There was nothing (not even a contract) forcing them to be there. Nurses put themselves and their families in harm’s way, and some simply didn’t see their family for months until they felt it was safe again.
During this pandemic, nurses are the ones holding the iPads in patients’ rooms so their families can say hello because visitors were not allowed or, sadly, say goodbye for the last time. Nurses are the ones holding hands while someone takes their final breath so they don’t die alone.
How have things changed for you since then?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the patient population has returned to a more normal pace in the PICU. Honestly, not much else has changed other than the occasional visitor restriction or PPE guidelines that we are constantly following to ensure safety.
Tell us more about your experience with travel nursing. How did you make the decision to do this?
Travel nursing has been an interesting experience. I made the decision to do it while I was in nursing school. It was a goal of mine, something I was interested in the moment I learned of it. I love to travel all over. I thought it would be cool to be able to do what I love and travel while doing it.
So I found myself excited to start this journey… and COVID started at the same time. It has made the experience more challenging for sure. I haven’t been able to really enjoy the places I have been for the most part because of the shutdowns and restrictions. Despite that, travel nursing has helped me really learn what is important to me in a unit, facility and company, so that I know what I’m looking for when I choose to settle down and quit the nomadic lifestyle. It has also opened my eyes to all the different ways there are out there to achieve the same thing.
How long do you typically stay in one place?
I have been in each place for about 13 weeks, except for Austin – that was cut short. It does get tiring packing and moving. Sometimes you have the option to extend your contract and stay longer. I just haven’t found the place to do it yet. Maybe DC will be that place for me! I’m headed there next.
What has been your favorite part about life as a nurse?
I love the patients that I get to work with and their families. Each one is a different challenge and I’m constantly learning. I love that my skills and knowledge are constantly evolving. There is always something to learn no matter how long you have been doing it. You could care for several patients whom all have the same diagnosis but not a single one will present the same, nor will their course of treatment be the exact same.
What would advice would you give nursing students?
First, whatever area you want to be in: Go for it. Don’t let someone tell you that there’s no way to get into that area right out of school. I was told that by so many, that I needed to settle on an area where I knew I would be unhappy. Give yourself some time and a chance to be where you want to be. Secondly, ask questions and ask for help. You are never alone when you’re working! And remember: We have all been in your shoes before. The scariest new grads are the ones who don’t ask questions.
Check out more stories from nurses on the ATI blog!