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Two Nurses Reflect On Graduating Into A Pandemic05:28
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In March, Simmons University undergraduate nursing student Aisha Diallo was working one-on-one with a nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a key part of her last semester of nursing school.

Then, as the coronavirus pandemic grew, Simmons sent its students home. In-person instruction ended, and with it, Diallo's training with a practicing nurse on a postpartum floor.

"That's kind of the highlight of your senior year in nursing and you get to really focus in on a specialty, so that unfortunately did get cut short," Diallo said.

Aisha Diallo (Courtesy)
Aisha Diallo (Courtesy)

Diallo's classmate, Kirsten Clark was in the middle of her own one-on-one training in an oncology unit at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in March when the pandemic hit Boston.

"It sucked. It's not fun," Clark said of the abrupt end to her in-person training. "Getting to spend time with that patient population was really interesting and inspiring to me. It's an awful disease and nurses can really make a difference in their care and experience."

Clark and Diallo are among 78 nursing students graduating Friday from Simmons. Like the end of their undergraduate careers, the graduation will be virtual, too.

"It's definitely a strange way to enter the field, but also I feel like ... I've been preparing for this for the last four years, that anything can happen."

Aisha Diallo

Diallo does not have a job yet and she has a lot of questions. Where should she apply? Are enough testing centers open? Are hospitals ready to take on new staff? She worries that hospitals are too busy treating COVID-19 to consider hiring new nurses.

She had hoped to move to New York with friends to get a job there, but she is rethinking her plans now, wanting to stay closer to home in Northampton, or perhaps applying for jobs in Boston. Diallo wants to go into maternity care, but sees other potential opportunities, like working in a medical-surgical unit.

"It's definitely a strange way to enter the field, but also I feel like ... I've been preparing for this for the last four years, that anything can happen," Diallo said. "Going into health care, you have to be ready on your feet and take what comes at you."

Kirsten Clark graduates from Simmon's nursing school on Friday. (Courtesy)
Kirsten Clark graduates from Simmon's nursing school on Friday. (Courtesy)

Clark has already landed a job in oncology at a Manchester, New Hampshire, hospital near her home. The daughter of a physician assistant, Clark said she wanted to be a doctor, until in high school, a friend suggested she would make a great nurse.

"I think for me, what draws me to nursing is that you really get to spend time with patients, and you get to meet and see people at their most vulnerable moments, and you also have the science aspect, so it kind of combines all of my interests," Clark said.

Diallo's father is from Guinea. In 2014, she went there on a month-long school trip. Shortly thereafter, Ebola broke out in several West African countries. Seeing that epidemic and its effects inspired her to pursue nursing.

"Now, here we are in a global pandemic and I'm starting my nursing career," she said. "So kind of what inspired me to become a nurse is kind of now happening again as I go into the nursing field."

This segment aired on May 15, 2020.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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