I made the decision to go to nursing school after my experience as an optometric technician and my acceptance into optometry school on the east coast. I realized I didn’t want to live in a big city and far away from family for four years. Having already completed my bachelors degree, I was able to enter an accelerated program and earn my nursing BSN degree in one year. I then completed my preceptorship at Altru where I enjoyed working with the nurses and other staff, leading me to apply for Altru’s Nurse Residency program.
The 2020 Winter Cohort Residency of Nurses began like any other. We enjoyed having the extra time to learn important skills including crash cart use, Epic charting, starting IVs, and how to use Altru’s IV pumps. Then one day as we were meeting in our large group, we were told we were needed on our units to meet with our respective managers and begin training on the floor with our mentors. By this time, everyone in the room had heard what was happening around the world, but we did not know what was going to happen when Covid arrived in Grand Forks. Despite that unknown, we needed to be trained and ready to help on each hospital floor.
In the beginning, there was considerable chaos and many questions regarding patient care, avoiding Covid, or sharing it with family and friends. We had to learn new routines in order to keep our patients, ourselves, and our families safe. Every day since the start of the pandemic, my routine upon arriving home has been leaving my shoes at the door, heading straight to the laundry room and shower, and avoiding any contact with others until I have cleaned up. Other nurses chose to have their children stay with other family members to avoid exposing them. When working in the Covid positive units, we triage problems in order to avoid another person entering a contact and airborne room.
I can remember my first day being floated to “Six North” — The medical surgical Covid unit. I was nervous and scared. I need to protect myself from the virus while providing the best care for my patients that day. It was the float pool of nurses who kept Six North running safely and smoothly. They became the experts on caring for patients during a global pandemic, and were always there to answer questions about things nobody had experienced before.
During the spring of the pandemic, several beds were empty as people were afraid to be admitted to the hospital. People were staying home and canceling elective procedures, while those hospitalized were very sick. Many may have waited too long to come in, or only came when they couldn’t bare what they were dealing with at home. Then fall arrived with a second outbreak, but this time hospital beds were full. Elective procedures were going on as well as more emergent procedures, leaving Covid patients having to wait long hours in the ER for a bed to open.
The 2020 Winter Cohort Residency of Nurses wrapped up this past February. Looking back, we all have our own stories about our worst days and our best days. Through it all, our instructors were our backbone, helping us get through each day, week, and month of working in a pandemic. We all learned to prioritize and delegate tasks, and to develop excellent time management skills better than we ever thought possible, coming out of nursing school as a fresh graduate. The past year has given us graduate nurses the knowledge and strength to continue our nursing careers at Altru.
Brooke Vatthauer, BSN-RN
Third Floor Medical Specialty