Coronavirus creates uncertainty for graduating nursing students

Kira Vitella (back row, second from right) and other UH Mānoa nursing students gather in front of an O‘ahu hospital.
– Courtesy of Kira Vitella

by Darsha Lee, Special to Ka ‘Ohana

Last month, Kira Vitella, a nursing student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, was working diligently towards graduation in May. As a senior in her final semester of nursing school, Vitella was looking forward to participating in the prestigious pinning ceremony that typically signals the end of a challenging four-year program. Her schedule consisted of classroom studies as well as hands-on learning, working one-on-one with a nursing preceptor in a busy Oʻahu emergency room. 

All of that changed on March 9 when nursing students were informed that their hands-on clinical rotation would be suspended following growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

As Vitella puts it, “I lost a valuable experience. During the first half of the semester, I was growing professionally and personally in my confidence and skills.”

At the time, cases of the disease had reached almost 120,000 worldwide, with two cases reported in the state of Hawaiʻi. As of April 29, more than 3.1 million COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in 185 countries worldwide, including 613 cases in Hawaiʻi, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard and the Hawai‘i State Department of Health.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, seniors like Vitella are adjusting to unprecedented changes in their curriculum. The final semester of nursing school is an important time for students to take their collective knowledge and apply it in real-world settings with the guidance of one-to-one mentors. Instead, Vitella has had to adjust to online classes and to learning complex topics via Zoom.

As each day brings more cases of COVID-19, Vitella shares that one of her biggest concerns is for those most at risk.

“Personally, I am concerned about my grandparents and the elder population and the effects this virus will have on them,” she said.

Vitella also said that the outbreak has raised many questions about her career opportunities once she is able to graduate. 

“With the COVID-19 outbreak, I am also concerned about the effects that it (will have) on the economy and how it will affect jobs in the near future … I have various questions about if hospitals will have the resources and funds to support new graduates.”

For now, Vitella is making the best of a difficult situation. She said the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of making the most out of every educational experience.

It is important to “always appreciate your learning opportunities, because you never know when (they) will change,” she said.