Graduating to the frontlines

Some nursing students graduating this May are nervous about entering the workforce amid the pandemic. Despite completing their education remotely, recent graduates are already on the frontlines helping the fight against COVID-19. NATALIE MORRIS/GRAPHICS CENTER

Miguel Arcayena

Staff Writer

For nursing students, specifically upperclassmen and recent graduates, the pandemic has greatly impacted their learning process and future career paths. Nearly a year after the start of the pandemic, the stress of graduating directly to the frontlines is widespread across the major. 

Senior nursing student Kathleen Atendido was preparing for the most critical part of her studies when in-person classes were suddenly interrupted. “I was in my second semester of junior year, and that’s really when you get the nitty-gritty of the skills. When we weren’t able to get checked off on those skills, I was so worried for the next semesters if I were given a clinical site,” she said. 

Students can now get those skills checked off since the pivot to online instruction is now firmly intact, but Atendido contends that there is an underlying difference in the training process. “Sure, you can learn those skills now, but it’s just the whole aspect that I didn’t get the one-on-one with a professor to really hone down my skills to feel confident.” The rest of Atendido’s family has also witnessed the pandemic’s effects first-hand; her siblings are nursing students too, while her mother owns an assisted living care facility in San Francisco. 

For Atendido, the pandemic has also changed her post-graduation plans. “I’m not so confident being in a hospital setting. Maybe I want to start in a smaller site where you do check-ups or simpler work and then work my way up,” she said. 

Fellow senior RJ Santos shared Atendido’s frustration with not being able to undergo in-person clinicals in the field. “Nursing is one of those professions where so much of it is predicated on being there to really take care of people. It’s hard to do that by just virtual simulations of patient care,” he said. 

The pandemic has also affected Santos’ self-assurance. “Before the pandemic, things were really starting to click, I could walk into a patient’s room and I can assess them properly and I didn’t feel like I [was] doubting my own judgment,” he said. 

Santos added that this hit to his confidence may also inversely affect his ability to work on his nursing capstone project. “With the prospect of potentially starting my capstone in a week or two, I don’t know if I still remember what it takes to do things the way that I used to. So, that’s definitely something that I’ve had to do a little reflecting on,” he said.

Santos admitted that he considered taking a gap year, but because he was only a year away from graduation, he opted to remain in school. “Frankly, the degree of education isn’t the same. Granted, our professors are trying their best to accommodate us and I respect the hell out of them, but there’s something to be said about the lack of in-person time in the hospital or skills lab,” he said.

Santos is the president of the Male Student Nurses Society (MSNS), an on-campus organization that helps guide and support male-identifying students in the nursing field, a profession that is historically female-dominated. Santos’ presidential predecessor was Shane Yoshiyama, who graduated in August. 

Yoshiyama currently serves as an oncology nurse at Stanford University Medical Center. Yoshiyama was anxious to return to the hospital as his rotational work in its pediatric and maternity units was cut short by the pandemic. As a result, he has applied for several jobs in the Bay Area, as well as Southern California. 

Though he officially started his new role at Stanford Feb. 22, Yoshiyama began as a nursing assistant there during the summer while finishing his nursing studies. As part of that role, Yoshiyama worked in various parts of the hospital, including a COVID unit.

Like Atendido and Santos, Yoshiyama had apprehensions about what working in a hospital would be like in the initial months of the pandemic. However, his prior clinical work provided him extra confidence. “I had the reassurance from some previous healthcare experience as an EMT, so I had that foundation in the patient care setting,” Yoshiyama said. 

Yoshiyama noted that because he had only one remaining semester, he was assured in his knowledge. Yoshiyama also mentioned that hiring managers within the nursing profession have been empathetic to recent graduates. “They understand that we’re getting a truncated educational experience, so they will keep [that] in mind and put into place different types of measures and build an infrastructure that will maximize our success,” he said. 

At the onset of the pandemic, many states amended their nurse licensing regulations in order to expedite the hiring of nurses as hospitals faced severe worker shortages. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in March, which forced the California Board of Registered Nursing to loosen its requirements on nursing students’ graduations. 

Among those hired to combat the pandemic is Marinella Cabral, who graduated from USF this past fall. She accepted a position as a nurse extern, at John Muir Hospital in Concord, California, before graduation. 

Throughout her practical work in October, Cabral began to understand the seriousness of the need to hire more healthcare workers. Consequently, she said there were plenty of job postings on social media for new graduates that extended immediate openings, especially after COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public. “My current work pretty much described to me that it’s about getting my foot in the door and really just lending a hand for so many COVID patients. And we nurses have so much more to deal with than the basics,” she said. 

Given that their chosen discipline relies heavily on hands-on experience, these seniors and alumni expressed common sentiments of initial anxiety and resolve when talking about their work during the pandemic. While changes to the educational setting produced concerns, gratitude and perseverance have been Yoshiyama’s message to his fellow nursing students. “Really taking the time to appreciate those past clinical experiences are important, it’s that one extra advantage that USF seniors will have in the future,” he said. “Stay hungry and be self-sufficient when it comes to finding knowledge and seeking opportunity, it’s only going to strengthen your chances of getting the nursing job you want.” 


Miguel Arcayena is a junior politics major, Deputy News Editor, and a General Assignment Reporter at the Foghorn. He covers COVID-19-related campus news. He can be reached at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

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