For so many, the COVID-19 pandemic brought hardship, grief and loss. The Victorian healthcare sector was pushed to its limits and its workers felt the pressure. But for myself, a student nurse, the COVID-19 pandemic presented tremendous opportunity.
Student nurses were called upon to join the pandemic response and alleviate nursing workloads. The university hallways and online classes were filled with talk of job opportunities for registered undergraduate students of nursing—or RUSONs as we became known. Many students had been sent home from the hospitality or retail jobs they were doing to get through university. We were enthusiastic to get out of the house and help.
I was one of the first RUSONs employed in my local area at the beginning of 2021. The job description felt like it was being written as we worked—our role was constantly changing. We would be sent to wards that were understaffed, told to work within our scope of practice and to assist nurses in basic tasks.
We would feed patients, help change beds, assist in showers and more. These skills, although basic, are fundamental skills that aren’t always practised by students on placement. We were able to learn so much and the feedback from nurses was always positive. We were making a difference in a troubling time.
Our role developed as our understanding of COVID-19 changed. Soon, I was trained to work in drive-through and hospital-based testing sites. I was even sent to test the residents of an apartment building that had been quarantined with COVID-positive residents.
In these early days of the pandemic, before widespread vaccination, my role was considered dangerous. It was scary coming home to my family after being surrounded by active cases of COVID for up to ten hours a day. Despite this, I felt immensely proud to be involved in such a monumental moment in history.
I remember the day vaccinations arrived in Australia. Rapidly, I received training in vaccination storage, preparation and administration. I was sent to a regional vaccination centre where I helped educate the community on the risks and benefits of vaccination. I monitored people post vaccination for side-effects, managed vasovagal episodes where people felt faint or fainted because of the vaccination, and escalated care when necessary.
Towards the end of 2021, I was administering vaccinations independently. After my first day as a vaccinator, I felt a wave of confidence as a future nurse. I had grown from an unemployed university student to an independent healthcare worker making a difference in the midst of a pandemic!
Soon enough, the vaccination centres saw fewer and fewer consumers come through the door. RUSONs were sent back to hospitals and put into critical areas. I worked in intensive care, emergency, COVID and infectious disease wards, paediatric wards and more. Every day I learnt more and more. When face-to-face university resumed, I entered my final year of nursing a confident student, sure of my future in nursing.
I have now graduated from university and started my graduate year. I am so thankful for the opportunities I had as a student—opportunities that were previously unheard of: hands-on experience in the hospital and independent work opportunities in demanding areas of healthcare—essentially paid placements—with the support of healthcare professionals.
I truly believe I am a better graduate registered nurse because of the training and experience I had as a RUSON. So, for me, although the pandemic brought tremendous adversity, I was fortunate to find a silver lining.