Nurses talk to nursing students at the National Student Nurses’ Association convention in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The panel addressed the convention’s theme, “Here’s to the Heroes.” (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Amy Christensen told nursing students Saturday about her experience working constantly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure nurses had protective equipment, ventilators were in the best places and the 24 hospitals she oversees had the nursing staffs they needed.
The chief nursing officer at Intermountain Healthcare said the second year was worse, as people got tired of hearing about COVID-19 and took their frustrations out on nurses. They were not longer viewed as heroes, she said, and people instead were often angry and hurtful.
Because of the pandemic, Christensen said nurses learned a lot about how to treat patients and ease burdens.
“It just warms my heart, and I could not be more proud than I am right now to be a nurse,” she said to future nurses.
She told the students that the future is bright, and they won’t be sorry they chose to become nurses.
Nursing students from around 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 recruiters from hospitals and interact with other students.
The theme for the conference “Here’s to the Heroes,” was picked by students on the convention planning committee. Camila Fred, who is the chairwoman of the committee, said they picked the theme because they wanted to honor all the work nurses did during the pandemic.
“We just want students to embrace the identity that they’re going to take on as a nurse and to really just grow into that and look forward to that position that they’re going to be taking on in just a few years,” Fred said.
Fred is a sophomore in nursing school at Florida Atlantic University. She said she is very glad to see people in person and make connections.
There were 1,200 registrants attending the conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center, in addition to exhibitors and sponsors. The organization has 60,000 members throughout the country.
The goal of National Student Nurses’ Association, according to Fred, is to help students learn professionalism and supplement what they are learning in school. Some of the issues addressed in the conference were influencing health policy, incorporating climate change in health learning, LGBTQ health and how to use naloxone or Narcan to reverse an overdose.
“It’s important that student nurses know how to advocate for themselves and for the things that matter in this profession,” Fred said.
She said the last in-person convention in 2019 was also in Salt Lake City, but it is held in various cities around the country to make it easier for different students to attend.
Nurses at a panel at the closing ceremony of the conference, including Christensen, talked about challenges they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. They talked about seeing people die, dealing with patients who were resisting the rules — particularly about visitors — and occasionally breaking rules or going the extra mile to help someone.
Giselle Melendez, a nurse leader at a New York City hospital, said nurses don’t go into the profession to be heroes, but because they want to care for others. She said in New York City no one knew how to react to the pandemic, and they got hit hard right at the start. She noted that every nurse’s experience with the pandemic is unique and different.
“As nursing students, you are entering the profession at a crucial time. Because of the pandemic, many nurses have chosen to change career paths. Nurses aren’t the only heroes during this pandemic, nursing students, you are heroes as well,” Melendez said.
She said many of them have had to learn or do clinicals in challenging circumstances.
Megan Parr, a nurse in the emergency department at Utah Valley Hospital, talked about how hard it was for her to constantly adjust to all of the COVID-19 policies and interact with people who sometimes would put her through verbal and mental abuse.
“One of the biggest challenges for me is burning out of a career that I had previously loved,” Parr told the nursing students.
She is now spending half of her time in an educational role, so that she has less time as a trauma nurse in the emergency room.
Parr said she would still encourage the new nurses to consider working in emergency departments. She encouraged new nurses to jump into any experiences they can, but make sure they keep themselves and patients safe while learning.
Parr told nursing students at the conference, particularly those who had an atypical nursing school experience due to COVID-19, to speak up when they are asked to do something they don’t feel safe doing yet, and ask for more training.
Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.