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Marissa CzarneckiSchool of Nursing Dean Nancy Meedzan received a report from the field from nursing student Marissa Czarnecki, who is currently working in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) at a Boston hospital. Her immersive experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic have been impactful to those around her—and to herself.

“We have all been impacted in many ways by what is going on in the world, and in these past two weeks I have been greatly awakened to how impactful my role as a nurse is going to be one day. I currently work in the PACU at [a Boston hospital] where surgeries, although starting to be reduced, are still being done; and we are all still being subjected to COVID-19. I have been witness to countless nurses dedicating their time to COVID-19 patients. Most recently I have seen nurses being called out of their jobs in the PACU to care for patients in a new COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as if they are being called to war. It is truly shocking to me and really inspirational to see how professional these nurses are. Although we are all scared, I would not choose to change my position for one minute. I truly believe that, although I am at great risk going to work each day, I will be a better nurse from all that I am learning and seeing in the field.”

Even though Czarnecki recognizes and appreciates the effort from faculty in providing virtual clinicals for senior nursing students so that they are able to successfully complete the academic requirements of the program, she prefers to remain on-site at a hospital.

“…the 30 hours a week I spend working at the hospital will likely become 40 and 50 as the need for care of patients increases. That being said, I feel as though for my learning, and for my experience, I am much more likely to improve and perfect my clinical skills while I am working [on-site], not while I am filling out clinical paperwork or case studies online. There truly is nothing like direct patient care, and I am one of the lucky ones who still has a job to do so. I do not want to lose that, or reduce my hours to be online for class during certain periods of the day.” 

Czarnecki then shared a powerful and personal experience to Dean Meedzan, one that she said will forever change the way she practices nursing.

“On Monday a patient with a brain tumor scheduled for surgery presented with a cough and a fever. They decided they were going to test for COVID-19, VRE, and MRSA. The only thing I could hear was, ‘COVID.’ Everything went to white noise, once I heard ‘COVID,’ as the nurse caring for the patient continued to talk to me explaining how the patient needed to be transferred to the unit with my help. I felt completely numb. Tears were in my eyes. In that moment I wanted to walk out of the hospital. I selfishly did not want to be the one in direct contact with this patient. I wanted to do anything else but help this nurse. So, truthfully, I went to the bathroom, cried a minute, and texted my mom to tell her how scared I was and how I did not think I could do this. But then something hit me. I stepped back, looked at myself in the mirror with my mask near suffocating me, and I thought about how calm, cool, and determined the nurse caring for this patient was. She wasn’t tearful; she wasn’t showing fear; she wasn’t questioning her duty or her desire to care for this patient. And then I thought about the patient. How dare I think so selfishly about transferring this patient when he is likely terrified, fighting for his life, wondering will this brain tumor be removed—or will COVID get me first. I then walked out and did what was asked of me, with the upmost precaution…in the end I felt like I wanted to do it 100 more times for any patient that needed it. This is an emotional experience I will never forget and can never be replicated.”

Dean Meedzan, and the entire School of Nursing, applauds Czarnecki for sharing such a personal and honest story—a story that will help other nursing students who are struggling with similar thoughts and emotions—and perhaps most importantly, a story that shows the value of on-site, hands-on learning, because these experiences allow for personal and professional growth like no other.