International Nurses Day on May 12 honors nurses worldwide with a day of celebration for all the work they do to care for patients, people in their communities, and those they know and love.

The past year has been one of tumult and exhaustion for nurses as the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges and conditions that today’s nurses never worked through before. As Minority Nurse honors nurses around the world today, we thought hearing from a student nurse—one on the brink of starting a career path that has seen so much pain and joy in the past year—would give a perspective of the next generation of nurses on International Nurses Day 2021.

Twenty-year-old Bisola Ariyo is this year’s valedictorian for Howard University’s College of Nursing Class of 2021. Her work as a nursing student took on new meaning in the past year, she says, and only amplified the determination she’s always had to excel as a nurse.

As a student in Lagos, Nigeria, Ariyo earned a full scholarship to Howard University—where she dreamed of going. Originally, she (and her parents) thought she was going to pursue a med school track, but she realized her love of biology was suited for a different path.

“I did my first internship and my first clinical and I experienced that bedside, hands-on work,” she says. “Doctors don’t do that. Nurses build relationships and it’s a big responsibility when you think you’re the only advocate for this patient. They look to you for all sorts of things. It made me admire nurses, and I wanted to be just like them.”

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Throughout her college years, her dedication never wavered and her scholarship was something she used as a guiding light. “I wanted to come here and be everything I was expected to be,” she says, noting that she’s a recent an inductee of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. “It drives everything I do. I wanted to make my parents proud and make myself proud.”

As the pandemic swept through the world during her junior year, Ariyo says everything changed. During those early days, her father became ill and while his illness was not related to COVID, it put her in a deeply empathetic place. “It gave me an idea of what people were going through in the pandemic,” she says. Her parents were far away and the feeling deeply unsettled her.

When her family saw the work she was doing thorough the pandemic, it changed their perspective. Hearing about Ariyo’s 12-hours shifts, her parents were concerned about her safety and if she had enough PPE. They understood the gravity of her work. “Now my mom tells everyone her daughter is a nurse,” Ariyo says. “Before that, she thought doctors were the most prestigious. She has the most respect for nurses now.”

This spring, when she found herself working at a vaccine clinic and giving so many shots every day, she says she was grateful. “I was vaccinating people who were so thankful to get the vaccine and who would now get to see their grandmothers or their friends,” she says. “I never envisioned giving vaccines all day was something I would ever be doing, but I hope to take that experience with me.”

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Ariyo decided on her specialty path after a summer externship at Duke University Hospital Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where she shadowed a nurse and performed pre-op and post-op care of children with congenital heart defects. She’s decided to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. “Every day was a joy,” she says of the experience. Whether she was seeing children get better or enduring the sadness when they didn’t, Ariyo says working with children was profoundly moving. “They are so resilient,” she says of children. “Being part of that every day made me realize that is what I want to do. And that is the patient population I want to serve.”

As Ariyo gained additional work, she also saw how crucial it is for the nursing industry to attract more minority nurses. “Nursing is definitely impacted by how representation matters to patient care,” she says. While on a post-Hurricane Maria alternative spring break program with Howard University in Puerto Rico, Ariyo says she noticed how a language barrier or residents’ general mistrust of the healthcare system influenced care. “The Black or brown people or people of color who don’t trust the healthcare system are looking for the Black person in the room because that’s the person that looks like them,” she says. “There’s a responsibility for me and a trust they have in me because I look like them.” The experience even gave rise to new goal—learning Spanish. “I felt bad when there was no interpreter in the room,” Ariyo says. “Minority nurses are so important.”

Being part of Howard University’s nursing school gives Ariyo deep pride. She has taken advantage of every opportunity and has worked as a mentor at an afterschool program; was a HU Geriatrics Lab student researcher on the Alzheimer’s research team; and is a member of the Comprehensive Medical Mentoring Program (CMMP) and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS).

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Although she knows the work has been challenging, she sees herself reflected in her fellow graduates on this International Nurses Day. “My class is 42 strong incredible Black women,” preparing for a nursing career, she says. “I feel brave because I see all the other people in my class as brave as I am. And despite how much social unrest there has been, we can take solace in this future generation. It is a time for hope.”

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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