As COVID-19 spread across the country, nurses and other healthcare workers have been thrust into the spotlight. They're being lauded for their bravery and selflessness. But they're also speaking out against unsafe policies, like reusing face masks. They're putting their lives at risk. Facing huge surges in the number of patients needing care, some states are waiving certain licensing requirements for nursing students, allowing them to enter the job force ASAP.
In honour of National Nurses Week, Mavaro opened up to us about what it's like to enter the nursing field now, during such an overwhelming and uncertain period.
Refinery29: What made you want to go into nursing in the first place?
Taylor Mavaro: "My mum is a nurse, so I was exposed to it at a young age. Once I went to the hospital where she worked, and I saw how much of an influence she had on the patients, and how much they looked up to her. That made me want to go into nursing.
"The moment that really clicked for me was during one of my first clinicals [the "on-the-field" portion of nursing school that takes place in hospitals or other clinical settings]. I had a patient who was not really coherent. She was sleeping a lot of time, but I tried to talk to her. At one point I said, "If you understand me, squeeze my hand." She squeezed it. It made me realise how much I wanted to be there for people, and to help them."
What does a day in your life look like right now?
"I'm taking four online classes right now, and the work is pretty rigorous. My teachers are posting a lot of assignments. It's finals week, so I have a few papers that I have to write. That's pretty much what's keeping me occupied. If I need to relax and decompress, I try to go outside for some fresh air.
"I also have a lot of friends who are nurses, and I've been trying to ask them how they're doing, and ask if there's anything I can do for them. Mostly, I try to check in on them, FaceTime them."
When did you first hear about the coronavirus? What did you think about it?
"I was actually in class when I first heard about coronavirus. Honestly, at first, I didn't think it was going to be to be as serious as it's gotten, especially because the US has such a big healthcare system. I thought that they would have it under control.
"But around a week later I started to see more people having it. That's when it kind of sank in that this really is serious."
And your dad tested positive for the coronavirus, right?
"Yes. He had a cough for a few weeks. But that happens to him; it's a side effect of this medication he takes. Then out of the blue one Saturday, he woke up and said he felt tightness in his chest. He was short of breath, and he had a fever and chills too.
"He just didn't look right. When you're in the health field, you have that instinct, you know? You just look at the person and you know something's off. So when I looked at him, I was like, 'You know what, something's not right.'
"My mom called an ambulance just to be safe. By this time we'd heard that with the coronavirus, things could turn quickly. His vitals were normal. They didn't want to take him to the hospital because of the risks of exposure; they didn't want to increase his chances of getting it, if he didn't have it. So he immediately went to an urgent care clinic to get tested. Four or five days later he got a call that he had tested positive. By that time his fever had mostly gone away. His symptoms were moderate. No one else in my family showed any signs of symptoms, either.
"When the antibody test came out, we all decided to get tested for it. My dad and my brother both came back positive, but me, my mom, and my sister had all come back negative.
"I'm glad I encouraged my dad to get help when I did, even though things never got really bad for him. Being in the profession, you realise that it's better to be safe than sorry, especially after hearing stories that coronavirus can take a turn and escalate quickly."
How is the job search going?
"I look online for jobs every day. I have classes until the end of May, and I have two more clinicals in the fall. But I could work right now if I wanted, since I got my nursing license in March. I'd like to work in a hospital first, for experience. But I particularly like working with children and would also like to go into mental health. I'm thinking about paediatric psych, so I could help kids with any mental health issues."
"As of now, most places are looking for someone with more experience than I have. Usually training takes anywhere from a month to eight weeks, and hospitals don't have the time to train new nurses because of what's going on. Jobs are posted almost every day, but they're mainly looking for specific things like ICU experience because there are so many patients right now.
"I'd like to get a job in the summer — maybe when everything settles down. You hear that there's the possibility of a second wave so this might go on longer, but being able to get work doesn't worry me. You have to start somewhere to get experience, so if the opportunity comes, as long as I get enough training, I should be okay."
What has it been like to witness the pandemic knowing you’re going into the field?
"I definitely feel anxious about it! But you hear a lot about the nurses and other healthcare professionals that are rallying around each other, and that makes me feel hopeful. While it is a stressful time, when everyone is going through the same thing, it mitigates the fear, in a way. Hearing stories about nurses who have gotten sick or even passed away from COVID-19 gives me anxiety, of course. But you sign up for this. I'm sure you never expect a pandemic... But from what I've been seeing, you just really have to try to be positive about it, to do the best that you can, and to try to be as safe as possible.
"I'll say, I've never second-guessed what I want to do. I like to help people, and I want to help. I've been itching to help. Whenever it's my time, I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do."
Has anything surprised you or frustrated you about what’s happening?
"Yes, definitely. You hear all of the stories about nurses and the other healthcare staff who don't have enough medical equipment. That definitely gets me frustrated. They're putting their lives on the line, and they don't have enough medical equipment. Where is the disconnect between the people supplying the equipment and the workers? It's scary.
"Also, people not taking precautions when they go outside is frustrating. I feel like if you don't wear a face mask, you're not sticking up for nurses and healthcare workers in a way. Because they're putting their lives on the line for us. It's one simple thing that could help help people."
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.