Grace Howard said the most rewarding part of being a nurse is watching patients progress.
For the 52 Thomas Nelson students participating in this year’s nurse pinning ceremony May 7, the journey began in August 2020. It has been unlike that of any other class.
Jenni Jones, the interim director of nursing education at the College and an assistant professor, said few graduates have had a more challenging experience. The students started with all online classes, which isn’t easy in nursing. They saw firsthand how many in the profession are experiencing burnout; how many hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices are short-staffed; how they will be on the front line of the continuing pandemic. Still, they stuck with it for nearly two years.
“I think that says a lot about their character and their desire to serve people,” Jones said. “This is definitely not what they thought was happening.”
Michelle Short is one of the students participating in the ceremony, which will begin at 10 a.m. at Liberty Live Church on Big Bethel Road. Both the day (34 students) and evening (18 students) cohorts from the Hampton campus will be recognized. (The Williamsburg nursing cohorts hold their ceremony in December.) She said the unpredictability her class experienced proved beneficial.
“Adjusting to the flexibility is probably what got us through,” Short said.
They often had last-minute changes to labs and clinicals, and had to adjust to new ways of learning. However, their enthusiasm for the profession and the journey never wavered. They are looking forward to celebrating their success.
“The students are excited,” Jones said. “It’s the first time we’ve had pinning in person since the pandemic hit.”
For Short, it will be the start of a second career. She spent 15 years as a teacher, mostly seventh-grade math. She sees parallels in the professions.
“It’s all about serving others and meeting them where they are,” she said of nursing. “I felt the same way as a teacher in the classroom. I had to accommodate to my population of students.”
No two patients, or students, are the same. Approaching them differently is important.
“You have to learn to be flexible and adapt your communication in a way that best suits the patient or the student,” she said.
She already has a job with Mary Immaculate in labor and delivery. She and her husband have four girls, from ages 27-14. She chose the profession because it’s patient-centered.
“It’s about the service, giving back to those when they’re most vulnerable,” she said.
Grace Howard, 33, is from Ghana, West Africa, and moved to California about 12 years ago. She came to Virginia in 2018, and soon after enrolled at Thomas Nelson. Before moving east, she was a medical assistant for nearly four years. She has a patient care technician diploma and her CNA license, but that wasn’t enough.
“I wanted to do more than what I’m doing now as a medical assistant and CNA,” she said.
Adjusting to online classes in 2020 wasn’t easy for her because she learns better in person.
“I have so many questions to ask, and I have to make sure I retain the material,” she said.
Computer/internet problems occasionally were an issue because her computer was slow, and some tests were timed. But it has worked out.
“It’s all right,” she said. “I didn’t know we would come this far. It’s very surprising.”
She works as a CNA in a nursing home, doing everything except administering medication. She would like to go into a hospital setting because she likes to see the progression a patient makes from arrival to discharge.
“I just want to help,” she said.
Short admits seeing the additional challenges hospital workers faced during the pandemic made her and her classmates re-examine why they chose the profession, making sure they were doing it for the right reasons. However, she never second-guessed herself.
“It validated my decision,” she said.