Nursing Student Gains Experience Working in COVID-19 Unit

Danielle Anderson, Co-Editor in Chief

“Every day, working was hard,” said senior nursing major Megan McKinney. “Being in the medical field is hard work but working during a pandemic is extremely hard. I do not know that anything could have prepared us for this pandemic and all that it entails.”

Since May 2019, the Mead, Colo. native has worked as a patient care technician (PCT) in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Bryan Medical Center East Campus. But McKinney’s experience changed dramatically early last spring when her unit was converted to a COVID-19 unit where she would care for patients with a new set of challenges.

“We became a COVID unit when the pandemic first started so that we could care for a variety of COVID positive patients,” she said. “Many were very sick and required to be in the intensive care unit for their level of care. We had to adapt and change based on how many patients needed ICU care.”

This need for adaptability suited McKinney’s desire for a fast-paced work environment. Her day began at 6:45 a.m. when she received reports on all patients. She helped patients with their meals, baths, admissions, discharges and transfers.

The routine gave her structure but it also came with hardship.

“Patients were unable to see their family members, but we were able to help facilitate phone calls or Facetime,” she explained. “When patients were at the end of their life, it was important we allow the family members to talk to and see their loved one. It was hard, there was no way around it.”

Because of the lengthy isolation requirements, McKinney and her unit often cared for patients for weeks. Getting to know these patients, she said, made it difficult to see them sick or pass away.

“When going into a patient’s room, we had to wear a PAPR (powered air purifier respirator) and a gown. This was hard because it was harder for patients to recognize the staff and remember us,” said McKinney.

No college course could have prepared McKinney for what she experienced this past year and the toll that has come with it. Between community lockdowns, isolation, and the emotional fatigue of the unit, she said balancing school, life, and work stress was difficult. But it has also taught her a valuable lesson.

“Working in healthcare really is a team effort,” she said. “No one could do this alone. We were all there to support one another and help each other out every day. Even though every day was hard and very trying, I learned that we can come together as a community and we will get through this one way or another.”

In addition to her experience in the COVID-19 unit, McKinney has clinical experience in the burn unit at CHI Health St. Elizabeth, the vent assisted unit at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, long-term care facilities, Lincoln Regional Center, labor and delivery and others. Following her graduation from Nebraska Wesleyan in May, McKinney will work as a registered nurse on the medical/surgical intensive care unit at Bryan Medical Center East Campus.