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Stepping Up To The Front Line

A vaccination is prepared at UK’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jack Weaver

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers all over the world have been working tirelessly to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. As the pandemic has continued since March 2020, University of Kentucky alumni and students have stepped up to the front line.

Three of these individuals shared their stories and experiences of what it has been like this past year.

- Danielle Duncan-

Danielle Duncan, a recent UK Nursing School graduate, is currently working at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital as an RN.

“Being a student nurse during a global pandemic was challenging, but the support from the College of Nursing did not waver,” Duncan said. “They continued to reach out and give us the proper resources we needed to succeed not only academically, but mentally as well.”

COVID-19 has changed many classroom settings, including nursing courses; fewer fully in-person classes are offered with more hybrid and online classes available.

“It’s been so much harder. Everything we do is hands on; I can’t learn to put a Foley catheter in through a computer, I can’t learn how to draw up a medication and administer a flu vaccine through Zoom. In-person classes for us are vital,” Duncan said.

However, Duncan said that clinicals have remained in-person.

“We were still able to participate, and the College of Nursing provided us with the proper personal protective equipment needed to care for the patients,” Duncan said. “My love for the medical field grew as I experienced firsthand the teamwork that I saw put forward every day at clinicals.”

Duncan also had a memorable moment during a conversation she had with the doctor in a pediatric clinical.

“The doctor looked at me, assuming that I was the nurse for the patient, and had asked me pertinent information on the patient. I then exclaimed that I was ‘just a student nurse.’ The doctor stopped. Her facial expression changed, and she became very serious,” Duncan said.

“‘You are not just a student nurse; you are a vital part of the healthcare team.’ It may have been insignificant to her and maybe to many others who heard, but to me, it meant everything,” Duncan said. “I finally felt like I mattered, I felt acknowledged, and I will remember what she said throughout my nursing career.”

In some cases, nursing students are also being asked to perform beyond their usual responsibilities.

The summer before her last semester, Duncan participated in a student nurse program called SNAP.

“My classmates expressed to me that they had to train to become spotters. Spotters are people who sit outside of a COVID-19 positive patient’s room and make sure that the staff entering the room have on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This was not in the SNAP job description,” Duncan said.

A sign directs traffic to the COVID-19 testing and vaccination facilities on Sunday, March 21, 2021 at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amber Ritschel

- Gabrielle Innocent -

Gabrielle Innocent, a May 2019 UK graduate, is now working in the Emergency Department at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

Innocent has been working on the front line since March 2020. She said her experience thus far has been simultaneously exhausting and interesting.

“Most bewildering is seeing people not believe COVID-19 and that it’s still raging on. It’s frustrating seeing that and then watching people walk in with mild difficulty breathing to having to be placed on a mechanical ventilator within hours because of COVID-19,” Innocent said.

“On the other hand, I’m grateful for the people in the community who take steps to protect themselves and others. Shout out to y’all.”

Unlike Duncan and many other nursing students, Innocent’s college experience was not affected by the virus.

“I’m very grateful I didn’t have to learn to become a nurse while navigating an ongoing global pandemic,” Innocent said. “New nurses may approach this as a challenge and feel empowered to help out where they can.”

Innocent thinks the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to encourage and discourage young nurses in the field but hopes that they stay inspired by the nurses and doctors who have worked non-stop since March.

As COVID-19 continues to be a threat, Innocent’s advice is for people to stay safe, social distance as space allows and to wear a mask.

A note is left on a table at UK’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jack Weaver

- Connor Simpson -

Although doctors and nurses have stayed in the spotlight as they continue the fight against COVID-19, non-nursing students have also stepped up to the front line.

Connor Simpson, a current UK student studying kinesiology and health promotion, is now working 12 hours weekly administering COVID-19 tests at one of the University’s testing sites.

“I saw that they were hiring, and it was an opportunity to help join the force,” Simpson said. “The more people we test, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

For Simpson, the most rewarding part of being involved in COVID-19 testing has been the opportunity to work with patients.

“It’s definitely a good experience for learning how to deal with patients, learning how to keep myself calm and to keep them calm when they get frustrated,” Simpson said.

Simpson has now given thousands of COVID-19 tests.

“The first experience was scary, I was definitely nervous,” Simpson said. “I didn’t want to mess up or hurt anyone.”

Simpson has seen everything from a child kicking his mom to adults screaming while being administered.

“It’s always interesting,” Simpson said. “Sometimes when I ask people if they’ve been tested before and they say no, it’s crazy to think that this pandemic has been going on for almost 12 months and some people are getting tested for the very first time.”

Students from a variety of majors are involved in testing. Simpson believes all students, no matter their major, should get involved to help fight COVID-19 in the Lexington community.

“The training process is fairly easy,” Simpson said. “It was an entire day dedicated to training, and they went through each position we would be working.”

UK Wild Health requires student test workers to work 12-hours per week in two-hour shifts. However, Simpson said that Wild Health is accommodating and willing to work with students’ schedules, making it easy to get involved and help stop the spread in the UK community.

Catherine Crawford, a UK College of Medicine student, prepares a patient’s arm for the COVID-19 vaccine at UK’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jack Weaver


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