This is a story about the effects of COVID on our profession. I do not wish what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
Some context—I completed my general nurse training in the 1980s. I loved my time nursing and made lifelong friends. But I rebelled against the structure and rigidity of the environment and was frustrated with the poor pay, conditions and the culture.
I left and forged a career in sales, recruitment, training and managing teams—together with raising a family. Then midwifery beckoned.
Going back to complete my midwifery degree in my fifties wasn’t a decision I took lightly. It had been something I had wanted to study and do for many years. I knew the financial and time sacrifices I would have to make but I’d had four children, I’d personally suffered a diverse range of obstetric complications including perinatal loss, and I felt I had the academic ability and life experience to contribute.
The start of the pandemic coincided with the start of my graduate year in the birthing unit of a major metropolitan hospital. Two days buddying with a midwife and two days training on the new computer system. Then we were on our own.
Day one orientation—my buddy midwife started firing questions about postpartum haemorrhage in the medication room in front of a group of midwives. I panicked and couldn’t answer in time—she berated me in the hallway—I would be on my own in a day—I should know all of this.
COVID meant less time for everything—no time post caesarean section to help with breastfeeding—hurry—get paperwork done—up to the ward—handover—go again.
Changing in the handover room into scrubs. Sitting apart to take handover. My heart beating so hard, my mind racing. Staff not entering rooms due to COVID saw stress levels escalate. We were more on our own now as PPE and infection control measures meant going in and out of rooms was virtually impossible. No water allowed. No toilet breaks.
The patients in our unit were all high acuity—they needed frequent observation and attention to make sure they improved or at least remained stable. Constant emergencies, escalations and situations that graduates should not be part of were the norm.
I was never quick enough—that was made clear to me. I spent most shifts crying on the way home due to the pressure and stress I was under. I knew I could do this job—I just didn’t have time to consolidate my knowledge and skills and grow into my role. I needed to leave the hospital or just succumb to the unhappiness I felt.
COVID has had a huge impact on many in our health system and in the community. Mine is in no way as serious or significant as many—I lost no close friend or relative. I have only lost my career as a midwife and my passion for midwifery. I have a different life—no less fulfilling, but I am lost to the profession after less than two years’ practice.
Whether I can attribute the outcome of my short-lived career to COVID alone is unlikely, but for me, COVID exacerbated something that is wrong with our profession.