July 9, 2020

No amount of clinical experience could prepare anyone for COVID-19, says nurse practitioner student

Andrea Loria says irony of physical distancing is that it has brought her academic, professional and personal worlds closer together

For the past seven years, since graduating with a combined Bachelor of Nursing (with distinction) and Bachelor of Kinesiology degree, I have worked in many different clinical areas and currently am a registered nurse with both Alberta Health Services and a private surgical centre in the city.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have assisted with the screening of staff and visitors at the entrance of the Peter Lougheed Centre. I also attended a “support nurse” orientation in an intensive care unit that was part of an initiative to prepare for a potential surge of COVID patients.

In 2018, I returned to UCalgary to pursue graduate-level studies and my dream of becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). I am currently on track to graduate with a Master of Nursing/Nurse Practitioner (MN/NP) degree in the summer of 2021. 

I have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic through a variety of lenses. The hat I wear has changed daily over the last few months, but regardless of what role I am in, there have been constant unknowns, various changes and frequent adaptations.  

Nurses are typically accustomed to unpredictable and rapidly changing environments. However, no amount of clinical experience could prepare anyone for COVID-19. As the pandemic began to unfold, there was a “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” mantra in the hospitals.

With every single day came changes in policies, practices and flow. I was unfortunately laid off from my nursing position in the private sector and my position with AHS was also in jeopardy given a surge of COVID-19 cases. Because I am a casual employee, I am not guaranteed any amount of shifts. As a graduate student who had just moved into her own home, financial stress and fear of the unknown became a reality.

Andrea Loria is currently studying to complete her Master of Nursing/Nurse Practitioner (MN/NP) degree. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has assisted with the screening of staff and visitors at the entrance of the Peter Lougheed Centre.

Andrea Loria is currently studying to complete her Master of Nursing/Nurse Practitioner (MN/NP) degree. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has assisted with the screening of staff and visitors at the entrance of the Peter Lougheed Centre.

Pandemic affects academic, personal and professional life

I come from a family of health-care workers, including my sister-in-law who is an RN, and my brother who works for the city’s Emergency Medical Services. There are two small children in our family as well as grandparents. I live with Jordan, my boyfriend of seven years, who has a viral heart condition. Given the high risk of exposure for many of our family members, we exercised a greater degree of caution even beyond provincial and federal recommendations. We are a very close family and the adjustments have been difficult.

It is a constant battle between wanting to serve the public, to fulfill my duty as a nurse during such a challenging time, while also keeping my loved ones free from sickness. The standard “have a good day!” text message from Jordan that I received every morning now included an additional wish to “please stay safe.” Arriving home from work consisted of a decontamination ritual and dinner talk revolving around “what ifs.”

Being a student added another element to that distress. As scholars, we have several academic commitments and deadline requirements. However, the desire to also offer our services and assist our colleagues on the front lines while balancing our school workload weighed heavily on us.

Andrea Loria (BN/BKin’13)

Andrea Loria with her boyfriend Jordan, who has a viral heart condition.

My NP cohort and I were on the cusp of finishing the winter 2020 semester when the pandemic commenced. We had attended a class on campus one day, and the next day, were told the doors to the university were closed. I cannot speak for all students, but even though there was a certain level of anxiety around the new routine, I was pleasantly surprised that this aspect of my life seemed to remain fairly constant.

My cohort and I still started our spring semester on time, shortly after the winter semester ended. I know there were massive efforts behind the scenes to make the rapid transition to a virtual learning platform, and the changeover was impressively quick. Although the change to a virtual classroom poses some unexpected challenges, it was a humbling experience having to adapt our traditional ways of listening, learning and presenting.

Looking ahead to nurse practitioner career

There have been uncertainties and unfortunate circumstances. However, I have a sense of gratitude for this experience and all that it has taught me: it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The focus of my master’s degree is centred on the role of the NP and the prevention of chronic disease. As devastating as COVID-19 is, I have never been more excited to graduate and start contributing to the preventive health practices of people in our community.

Now more than ever, overall health — mind and body — is being recognized as invaluable and I believe this pandemic will contribute to elevating how the role of the NP is portrayed and utilized in our health-care system.

These last few months have been overwhelming and the future remains ambiguous. However, we must continue to challenge ourselves to maintain an optimistic mindset.

Self-reflection has allowed me to identify the lessons I have learned through the pandemic and appreciate the strength, resiliency, adaptability and awareness it has brought me. I vow to translate these lessons into my future and know they will prove invaluable both personally and professionally.

Andrea Loria completed her combined Bachelor of Nursing (with distinction) and Bachelor of Kinesiology degree at the University of Calgary in 2013. She is an RN with Alberta Health Services and a private surgical centre in Calgary. She is currently in graduate studies at the Faculty of Nursing to complete her Master of Nursing/Nurse Practitioner (MN/NP) degree, which she is on track to graduate with in 2021.