July 15, 2022

Flex Friday: Marina Neal

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Marina Neal
Marina Neal, third-year nursing student, UCalgary

Marina Neal, from Vancouver, BC, is entering her third year at UCalgary Nursing. She’s been involved in several leadership initiatives at the university since her first year, and is always busy exploring new nursing opportunities in her free time. From co-chair of the Year One Nursing Council to mentor with the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, Marina has nearly done it all.

Why nursing?

“My dad was a firefighter and my aunt was a psychiatric nurse, and I always loved hearing stories about their patients,” Marina said. As a swimmer and certified lifeguard, she also enjoyed learning first aid and was excited to transfer those skills to a career in health care.

Interestingly, Marina was originally hoping to enter biology and study medicine at UBC, however she quickly realized that this was not the career for her. “I thought, ‘I don’t really like chemistry, or physics, or calculus, and I really don’t think I could do four years of this.’” After many discussions with family and friends, Marina realized that the person-oriented and hands-on nature of nursing would be much more fulfilling for her. She added: “In nursing, you really get to know your patients.” 

Marina Neal

What experiences have prepared you for nursing? 

Marina continues to work as a lifeguard and responds to emergencies on a daily basis. “It’s a great experience for anybody who’s trying to dip their toes into first aid.” She was also tutoring casually throughout the school year, something she highly recommends to students looking for flexible and rewarding work hours. Marina also spent three years volunteering at a local nursing home in BC. “I really liked working with seniors,” she shared. Her role included planning games, organizing dinners and keeping her residents company. 

Following her first year of nursing, Marina was hired to provide comfort to clients in private homes, performing many duties similar to a Health Care Aide (HCA). However, without the proper experience and training, Marina unfortunately felt very underprepared for the high demand of the role. “It was good in the sense that I was super prepared for Term 4, but it was bad in the sense that I didn’t actually know how to work in a private home.” She often found herself practicing outside her scope, which was especially challenging without the proper support. “If something happens, there’s no one but you and the client,” she said. “That led to a lot of problems.” 

In this setting, Marina was also able to learn a lot about how to advocate for her clients, as well as herself.

As much as getting experience is good, don’t practice outside your scope. If you haven’t learned it, be honest.

"If it’s going to affect you, it’s going to affect patients,” she advised.

What other work opportunities have you had this year? 

Marina is currently in the process of applying for an internship with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). She was recommended for this opportunity after connecting with her Term 3 clinical instructor, who helped provide Marina with lots of support during her application. “She took the time to set up a Zoom call with me, and helped me tailor my resume and graphic design portfolio.

“The job is in nursing informatics,” she explained. “I’ll get spreadsheets full of statistics, and it’s my job to create graphics and designs to make it easier for someone in a non-nursing field to understand.”

How was your student experience? 

In Term 3, Marina worked with the Morley Indigenous population for her clinical placement. “They were really welcoming to us, but we only actually ended up visiting three times throughout the semester because of COVID.” She said that her group did a lot of learning over Zoom, watching documentaries and listening to guest speakers, but she did recall a good memory from the placement. “I remember we only had 45 minutes to get lunch and get to the community, even though it was a 50-minute drive. We were definitely not doing a very legal speed on the highway, and I remember laughing with everyone about trying to be careful but still arrive on-time. It was so fun.”

For Marina, Term 4 looked very different. On Thursdays, her clinical group worked for four hours rather than the typical eight. “My instructor couldn’t spend more than four hours at a time on her foot as she had just had surgery,” she explained. The remainder of clinical was spent on Zoom debriefing, discussing class content and asking the instructor questions. “She was excellent at connecting what we were learning in clinical to what we were covering in theory,” Marina said.


What were the biggest challenges throughout the year?

Marina found that the HCAs and RNs she was working with could either make or break her clinical experience. She shared that while many nurses in Term 4 provided a great learning experience, there were many times when her group felt left in the dark. Remembering a particular experience, she said, “We were told to perform a shower with a resident, but we hadn’t yet learned how to properly assist with showers in lab. We basically flooded the bathroom floor.”

Marina shared that the first few weeks of Term 4 were especially difficult without having all the required training in personal care. She felt that staff often seemed disappointed that students couldn’t help right away, and it was challenging only being able to observe when more help was needed. Marina also learned that once shift started, people typically wouldn’t slow down for students. “You have to be confident,” she said. “They’re not going to hold your hand.”

Marina also stressed that despite all the burnout from COVID-19 and the challenges of nurses delivering care during the pandemic, it’s important for future students not to be discouraged. “For prospective nursing students who hear these things–it is getting better, and there is hope.” 

You’re from BC – how was living on-campus?

Although Marina enjoyed being close to campus, her biggest challenge quickly became roommates. While she was initially worried that living with fellow nurses might be difficult, she realized that it could have greatly improved her experience. “It would have made it a lot easier. Your schedules are going to be fairly similar, and you’ll be there to support each other,” she shared. Marina added that different lifestyles between roommates can become challenging to navigate. “I would come home from a four-hour clinical, hop on Zoom for another four hours, and finish exhausted. My roommates wanted to blare music on a Thursday evening, and I just wanted to sleep.” Since clinical practice is an especially unique student experience, Marina also felt it was difficult to try debriefing with those who couldn’t share the same experiences. “Not everyone understands, and sometimes they would just think things were funny.”

To future students, Marina recommends joining a Facebook group for your graduating class. “Meet people and reach out. Don’t be afraid.” Marina stressed that building those connections within nursing can be really important for when you just need someone to talk to. Regardless of her personal experience, she also advised students not to be discouraged about finding roommates. “You’ll always know somebody with a bad roommate story, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be you.”

What are your future plans for nursing? 

“For the longest time, I thought I wanted to do paediatrics,” Marina said. “Now I’m leaning more towards Informatics.” After speaking with others and becoming inspired by a guest speaker during one of her lectures, Marina has also been very interested in law. “I’ve considered becoming a medical malpractice lawyer,” she shared. Marina has already written a practice LSAT exam, and was very proud of her results. “That’s the best thing about nursing: there are so many options.” 

Marina and fellow nursing students

Rapid fire! 

Best place to study on campus? “TFDL, 4th floor. Walk to the very back and there’s a bunch of private rooms no one knows about!” 

Extra-curriculars? “Any program by the Leadership and Student Engagement Office at the university.” Marina recommends Leadership on Demand and the Emerging Leaders Program.

Self-care? “I call it, ‘four days on, three days off.’ I always just try to reserve some time during the week for myself.” 

Biggest role models? “My dad. He’s changed career paths three different times, and is super inspiring. And also my mom, who built herself up from the ground to where she is today.” 

Plans for the summer? “Working, trying to relax, and enjoying the sun. I’ll also be starting a small business.” Marina currently runs an Etsy website, where she initially began her passion for graphic design. “People contact me to design things for them to put them on anything they want,” she explained. Check out Marina’s website here!  

Marina’s final words

“Don’t be afraid to meet people! You will make friends outside of your major and in all sorts of different years. Extracurriculars are by far one of the best ways to make friends.”

Thanks for the Flex, Marina!