Nursing, education students push forward despite pandemic challenges

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on their schooling, a pair of education and nursing students say they still wouldn’t have changed their chosen career paths.

Sarah Bjelde, a fourth-year education student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday that teachers are flexible and adaptable by nature, but the pandemic taught everyone “resilience” and how to “pivot” when needed to ensure children are still able to learn.

“Understandably, some teachers are not staying in the profession as long as they otherwise would have, but that’s opening up a lot of opportunities for young teachers like myself, and all my friends, and we’re excited for this challenge,” Bjelde said.

Lale Tuner, a nursing student at York University in Toronto and Nursing Students of Ontario president, said with the pandemic and ongoing nursing shortages, the profession is looking “pretty less than ideal now.”

“But our education is focusing on finding practical solutions for the current issues and that’s what I found different than the focus of our education pre-pandemic,” she said.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many post-secondary institutions to adjust their programs, including moving courses online and limiting what can be taught in-person.

Tuner said many nursing students were unable to get in-person placements due to the pandemic.

“It was not already easy pre-pandemic, but now with the mass exodus of senior nurses, the capacity to provide that experience is reduced and we are afraid that this will all set back us when we graduate,” she said.

Tuner added that with many senior nurses burned out, and with morale low in health care, they just don’t have the time to offer that training to future graduates and help ensure they can safely transition into the workplace.

The last couple of years of her schooling has placed a heavy emphasis on self-care practices, Tuner said, even if many of the factors that would affect a nurse’s mental health, such as the stress of the pandemic or staffing shortages, are out of their control.

“We do practise self-care, but for suitable change to happen we need to address the more pressing issues on a systemic level,” she said.

For Bjelde, the loss of learning and social skill development poses a real challenge, with many children, particularly those who are younger and in their more formative years, requiring that added attention.

“Teachers are needing so many more resources and time to face these challenges, and from my experience in my programs, I’ve heard that making a really good work-life balance is crucial,” Bjelde said.

“Making healthy choices and building a really strong support network are all imperative to your life as a teacher.”

She said she hopes the pandemic transitions into a more endemic state — where the virus is still present but manageable — and that she can still do her final practicum in-person.

While she may have started her path to becoming a teacher pre-pandemic, asked if she would have made a different decision given what she knows now, Bjelde said, “absolutely not.”

“I love working with kids, it’s my passion and I love fostering learning experiences for them.”

The same could be said for Tuner.

“Our professors talk frequently about how nurses handled the SARS pandemic, and during my schooling I assumed a lot of leadership roles and interacted with a lot of nurses and students, and I can actually tell you that that gave me great confidence in my peers,” she said.

“The existing nurses are already amazing and a lot of my professors supported me greatly throughout the years, and I feel very proud to work along very bright, intelligent and passionate individuals, and this gives me the hope for the future of the nursing profession.”

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