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During the pandemic, Becky was unable to see and spend time with family. It was quite an exhausting and challenging time for her and other nurses.
Now that the pandemic has officially been declared over in the United States, Becky Sommers, an American nurse, recounts the challenges while working during the pandemic, the future of healthcare workers, and why nurses should fight the good fight.
Sommers, who is 40, with 11 years of experience working in the healthcare industry, spoke to me from Chicago, narrating her trials and tribulations during the pandemic, and how it affected her personal and professional life. She tells us how she dealt with it all.
Though the Chief Medical Adviser to President Joe Biden, Dr Anthony Fauci, had declared that the United States was out of the pandemic, she still warns us about the importance of being cautious with our health.
What motivated you to pursue a career in nursing?
A strong desire to help others. I worked for a while as a hospital sitter. My ability to help was limited due to my lack of training. I decided I wanted to provide care with my full capacity and capability. As a result, I decided to become a nurse.
With regard to the pay scale and workload, is it true that nurses are overworked and grossly underpaid? Do you agree or disagree with this statement? What has your experience been like?
I feel that nurses are often overworked in certain settings. Imagine that you work in a large hospital with a lot of staff members. However, if you work in a large hospital, with hardly any staff members, like I was, then yes, you are overworked.
But if you work in a small hospital with limited beds, then you are not as worked. When it comes to pay, it is often based on experience and doesn’t have much to do with workload.
What was the schedule like before the pandemic? Did you have personal space, time, and opportunity to regularly practice your hobbies and take care of your health?
Prior to the pandemic, I worked in night shifts. Finding time to both sleep and get every day errands done during the day was difficult. After the pandemic, I switched to the day shift, as many nurses left the field and positions opened up. You may find this hard to believe, but finding time for self-care and having time for hobbies is possible.
How did your personal life change during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, I was unable to see and spend time with family, and I had no time for myself. It was quite exhausting and challenging, during the peak.
How were the professional challenges you faced during the initial stages and the peak of the pandemic.
We were often short-staffed. The hiring processes were frozen because they didn’t want new employees, as they could possibly bring Covid-19 into the building. In addition, many people on the field resigned due to fear of contracting Covid-19, and not wanting to be vaccinated.
Some of my colleagues had to focus on their childcare as schools had closed down.
At one point, even I considered resigning. It really got tough. I was afraid that I would risk my health and my family’s health every single day. I also had a lot of work to do, which had me exhausted.
You mentioned that you considered resigning. How did you motivate yourself to work during such trying times?
I tried to keep in mind that someone out there needed my help, and I could help them with my experience, drive, and background.
What precautions did you take to protect yourself and your family?
I took all the precautions recommended by the government. I would have food delivered at my door step, and after I came back from work, I would wash my clothes separately and interact with my family only after showering. Furthermore, I followed all comprehensive work-related guidelines as well, which we are mandated to follow for our family and patients.
What can American hospitals do to retain nurses and make their jobs easier during this pandemic?
Offer mental and emotional support services. We are humans too. We are affected by the pain, struggle, and death of our patients. Likewise, we need to rejuvenate and unwind as well, so it would be great if we increased personal leave and holiday time. We have personal lives, too.
There has been a sharp rise in mental health issues among nurses; have you experienced any related illnesses, and what can the government or hospitals do to help improve the mental health of their nursing staff?
I have not experienced them. I think all staff, irrespective of their job title, must receive training to recognize it, and either self – diagnose, warn their colleagues in case the going gets tough.
As I mentioned earlier, it would also be helpful if free therapy sessions were made available to all healthcare workers. That way, we can be emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically in the best condition to help our patients.
In your opinion, what are the pitfalls of the American healthcare system? How do you think it affects patients and the staff?
I think hospitals run like a business, and they need to make profits, and this affects everything, including patients and staffing.
Do you think that the deaths of nurses could have been prevented? What could the American government and CDC have done differently?
We knew so little at the beginning. It is easy to say now what should have been done. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a situation that had everyone in the dark at first.
How do you think that the life of a nurse may change post-the pandemic era?
I hope that those who are still on the field will come out of it stronger in the end, physically and mentally. COVID-19 was an unforgettable experience, one that can either make or break you.
Has the pandemic altered your opinion about the American healthcare system or life as a nurse, in general?
I honestly still see the system the same. It’s up to individuals within the system to make a difference, even if it is just to take care of one person.
Do you have any advice for nursing students who may have to handle a similar pandemic in the future?
Be safe, study hard, and fight the good fight.
I would like to conclude by saying that, though the pandemic is officially over, I feel safe, keeping the bigger picture in mind. I’m not worried about constantly contracting the virus or worrying about my family’s life. However, I’m still worried about catching the flu, and taking a week off from work. It is so hard to make a living in the United States, with high costs, and few vacation days. Hence, all I can say is, stay safe and protect yourself from all illnesses and not just COVID-19.
Image Source: Becky Sommers via Canva Pro
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