Recent Nurse Graduate Starts Career During Pandemic, Emphasizes Relationships

Published by Ashley Broadwater on

Recent Nurse Graduate Starts Career During Pandemic & Emphasizes Relationships

Lauren Townsend felt confident that the Lord had called her into nursing, but she didn’t quite realize exactly what that would entail. 

Townsend, a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, will begin her work as a registered nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on July 20.

She said she felt thankful and excited to have gotten this job in February because in March, the hospital stopped hiring due to low funds.

However, she’ll be starting her nursing career in a global pandemic.

“This huge worldwide pandemic hit, and there’s this spotlight on health care heroes. A lot of us [nurses] feel special, like ‘aw that’s really sweet!’ But as we see it going on, we’re like ‘oh shoot, this is really what we signed up for?’” Townsend said. 

Townsend began to fully realize what it means to be in the health care field. “You have to put people before yourself a lot of times. Your own safety, your own health, your own time. It was pretty eye-opening for a lot of us, and made it a little more serious too. It wasn’t just stepping into your first job. People need you and the world needs back up and here you are,” she said.

Lauren wrote a senior honors thesis and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill's nursing school. Photo courtesy of Lauren Townsend

Back in early March, before spring break, multiple faculty members began to warn nursing students of what was to come with COVID-19.

“‘You’re called to this field to serve patients first, so don’t go to any high risk areas for spring break,’ they said. ‘We don’t want you going to places and bringing something back here. You’re in clinical right now; you have to get your hours to graduate. You have to take this seriously. Think before you travel somewhere.’”

But like a lot of students, Townsend and her friends didn’t realize the status of the country they’d planned on visiting, Morocco, would change so quickly from level 1 to 2 to 3. They went on spring break knowing that Morocco had zero cases of COVID at the time.

Level 2 countries have ongoing transmission of COVID. Level 3 countries have widespread, ongoing transmission and restrictions are placed on its citizens when entering the U.S.

Unexpectedly over spring break, March 8 through March 14, numbers of COVID cases grew worldwide. Townsend quickly realized her ability to graduate in May was on the line. 

Nursing instructors called their students multiple times during spring break. “Lauren, your graduation clinical requirement hours are now at stake because Morocco is a level 3,” her instructor Leigh Mullen said. 

But with COVID cases simultaneously rising in the U.S., Gov. Cooper issued a state of emergency on March 10. Because of this and the need to quarantine, all clinicals (the “on the field” part of nursing school) had to be changed into simulations. 

Despite her luck, Townsend said she still felt guilty about going on spring break; she felt that as a nurse, she should’ve set a better example. 

Since Townsend would later work in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), her concerns focused more on infants. “I think my biggest question with COVID was how does it even affect babies?” she said. 

Townsend heard many people argue that COVID predominantly affects the elderly, but she wondered how it would affect babies knowing it attacks lung cells and that babies don’t have fully-formed lungs. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some infants have contracted COVID and those with underlying health issues, like those in the NICU, are at a higher risk. Face shields are not recommended for infants, however, since it could impair their ability to breathe. The CDC is unsure if mothers can pass COVID to their babies through breastfeeding, but believes that doing so is unlikely.

Ashley Broadwater | Avant-Youth

Townsend says she’s bracing herself for the hospital’s precautions even as the world slowly turns back to normal. She understands that nurses go through a lot of emotional stress that others may not understand, and that leaning on other nurses is crucial.

“If I told [my roommate and best friend] sweet sweet Sarah what I saw every day, I don’t think she could handle it,” Townsend said. “It’s super hard and emotional that babies aren’t making it. And there’s HIPAA too, so you’re really not supposed to be talking about anything specific, even with nurses, so you have to be thinking about the commitment you have to uphold with the patient’s confidentiality but still have an outlet to say I had a hard day at work.”

As far as supporting nurses, Townsend loves the way people have shown love and gratitude creatively. “I love how creative people have been, whether that’s showing appreciation with signs or chalk outside of hospitals. I know nurses and doctors and health care members who are walking in or out after a long day and are lightening up. That’s the encouragement. For many, that’s the reason they went into health care.” 

Townsend knows she can also lean on other nurses and encourages her colleagues to do the same. “With really unfortunate situations that aren’t typical in normal life, you’ve got to have nurses to lean on who get it and share that link of empathy,” she said. 

While Townsend knows that orientation is a period for nurses to get ready for COVID, she believes that forming relationships with other nurses and looking up to the nurses who’ve been serving in this pandemic for three months is imperative. 

Photo courtesy of Lauren Townsend & graphic by Ashley Broadwater | Avant-Youth

“I would say this for new grads specifically: I think it’s going to be really important to get to know one another during orientation. Be focused on your job and responsibilities, but take it upon yourself to form a relationship with your coworkers too, because that ultimately also benefits your patients,” Townsend said.

A Gallup study found that women who have a best friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged, and men are more likely to be engaged as well. More employees having friends at work can even lead to less safety incidents, more engaged customers and higher profits.

According to a research study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health-focused philanthropy, nurses believe that they need more support. This support could be found in fellow nurses who can serve as mentors as well as people in the health system who can serve as allies to nurses.

Building relationshipsespecially with familiesis a main element of what makes Townsend feel so excited about her career.

“A lot of times with it being a critical care unit, those babies are there for a long time… I could have a patient for nine months. I’m looking forward to forming a long-lasting relationship with family members and being able to really focus and pour into this one-on-one patient-nurse ratio and take advantage of that. I love people; I’m a people person,” Townsend said.

What sold her on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was the outreach it does with families regardless of patient outcomes. According to Townsend, Children’s is connected with athletic groups like the Atlanta Braves, while also hosting galas, concerts and other events to stay connected with families it’s served.

“They made the families and kids feel loved and special… [That’s] why I’m so pumped on these family relationships. You get to support them throughout the rest of their life and be such a big part of their life,” she said. 

Despite Townsend’s fear of the unknown that comes with COVID and starting a new job, she can’t wait to get started. “I’m really giddy over it. It is my dream job. I really just feel like so much has aligned to get me to this point,” she said.

“Even with the worldwide circumstances with the pandemic, it seems like now more than ever it’s the time to be called into this, and I’m really eager to start and am so thankful and feel really, really blessed to have the opportunity to learn as a nurse and work with [babies,] my dream population.”

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Ashley Broadwater

Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a great appreciation for puns, Diet Cherry Lemon SunDrop, Halloween and the word “literally” — literally. A fun fact about her is that one-third of her face was once on Good Morning America.


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