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From left to right, Kora Uveitis, Alexis Snell and Coreena Ethridge
From left to right; Kora Upitis, Alexis Snell and Coreena Ethridge. Photo: Karli Zschogner/Fulcrum

Nursing students talk misinformation around COVID-19, importance of mental health and self-care, and clear communication from the university

The Fulcrum sat down with three University of Ottawa nursing students, Coreena Ethridge, Alexis Snell and Kora Upitis to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on their work, education and personal lives. 

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

The Fulcrum (F): Tell us about when COVID-19 first started, what was that like?

Coreena Ethridge (CE): It was definitely a huge change. So, I did a clinical at St. Vincent’s [Hospital] as a geriatric placement. And I remember sitting in clinical on a Friday morning and hearing school’s cancelled. I remember thinking ‘Okay just stay in Ottawa because we still have clinical’ and then Monday clinical was cancelled. So I went from like a full-time student in clinical labs, and full-time class to packing up my whole room in the day and taking the six-hour drive home.

Kora Upitis (KU):  Definitely a lot of things were up in the air. We didn’t get to finish some of our labs or exams. And then when you’re far enough in the program, you start thinking, ‘Oh, am I going to be able to actually finish the program on time? What’s happening with the rest of the clinical hours that I haven’t done?’ and all of that. So it was very nerve-wracking to be like, I don’t know what’s happening.

F: Have you noticed over the period of time a lot of misinformation concerning COVID-19?

KU: There was a lot of misinformation and the thing about information in the pandemic is that it does change. So what experts considered to be the best line of defense at the beginning is no longer true with the more information that we’re gathering. Originally masks were thought to not be helpful. Now we’re seeing that they really are.

So if you combine the fact that the good information was changing with the false information in there, it’s hard to kind of keep track of what’s the right thing to do and what’s actually coming. But there were a lot of people saying things that were ridiculous. There were people saying ‘drink hot water.’

In the hospital, policies would change. Every day, the government was releasing something new. So it was really hard to keep up with information. I would go into the hospital with this rule. When I leave, it’d be completely different.

Alexis Snell (AS): Around the end of May, I did a lot of work with families just because they weren’t allowed in the hospital and there was probably about two weeks where it was going around and a lot of families were convinced that vitamin C was 100 per cent [an] accurate cure for COVID-19. And I was trying to explain to them [that] if it was just as easy as to give them vitamin C, we wouldn’t be in a pandemic right now. It was just like really hard to get that across to them.

F: Thoughts on seeing people disregard public health protocols:

AS: It was really tough for me seeing people going out and partying with their friends not wearing their masks when they were together, not properly distancing, like having more than 10 people [at] an outdoor event at the time. I’m literally holding people’s hands while they die because their family members can’t be there and I’m burying bodies, but you’re going to party with your friends and you’re the reason why these people are dying. That was really, really tough for me.

KU: I didn’t hug my parents for months and then you see the people who are happily going outside seeing their friends not wearing a mask and because they’re not in it, and because it doesn’t affect them personally, they probably just didn’t think of it as big of an issue as it was. But when you’re in the hospital with these patients who are alone, like their families not with them. You have to kind of leave them in the room alone, unless you’re doing the bare necessities and it’s just very isolating in so many different ways. 

F: On practicing personal self-care:

CE: Nursing is such a unique program. Mental health with healthcare workers can be a big stigma. I can watch someone die and then have to come back home and have to go back the next day. I don’t think many programs can speak to that. We have classes on how to handle death and how to debrief. Self-care became going home taking a shower [and] really like focusing on how my day was. 

KU: Definitely talking about things with people who know what you’re going through. And even with people who don’t know what you’re going through, it definitely helps. COVID-19 was so present in the media all the time that it’s all you could think about. 

Finding the time to just disconnect from the fact that we were in a pandemic was really important. So watching a movie or listening to music, finding a new hobby, painting, whatever it is just doing something that didn’t have to do with the job and that didn’t have to do with the disease.

F: Thoughts on the U of O’s handling of COVID-19: 

AS: I really do want to appreciate the fact that they have tried their hardest to get as many people in person as possible. It’s really tough. There’s a lot of guidelines just like from public health and they’re trying to accommodate and make that work like still getting us into labs, still finding ways to get us into clinical because really it was up to the hospital. 

But, sometimes with communication, they could be a little more clear and kind of say ‘This is the plan that we have and it’s subject to change.’ Rather than just emailing us throughout the summer and saying, ‘Oh, we’re working on a plan.’