As student nurses celebrate the May 8 designation of National Student Nurses Day, they have a lot to be proud of. This year, student nurses navigated through a tumultuous time while continuing to pursue their nursing education despite a global pandemic. The task was, and continues to be, enormous.

To mark National Student Nurses Day, Minority Nurse went right to the source. We asked Aisha Zalwango, who is currently finishing up her senior year at Regis College in Weston, Mass., what it’s like to be a student nurse in 2021. Her answers reflect the challenges of the past year and the hope many nursing students feel going forward.

Please tell me about what led you to go to nursing school.

Ever since I was a young girl in Uganda, I knew that I wanted to become a nurse because I love taking care of the sick, the disabled, and those who need my help. I am majoring in nursing because I want to become a great nurse who will give the best care to my patients. I believe that good care is the best gift one can ever give to someone who is sick and away from their family and friends.

What is your intended specialty?

My intended specialty is Intensive Care nursing (ICU). As a novice nurse, I want to start in medical-surgical nursing so that I can improve my nursing skills and get more experience working as a bedside nurse. After a year or two, I will transfer to Intensive Care nursing.

What has surprised you about being a nursing student?

The things that have surprised me about being a nursing student are the things that I have found out about the nursing profession. They include the following:

  • Nurses’ roles are not limited to patient care. After a few years of experience, some nurses take on administrative roles, while others become teachers to the next generation of nurses. There are those who become researchers and consultants in the healthcare field.
  • Nurses have a chance to specialize in a particular area of healthcare. The only requirement to specialize is to fulfill an additional education requirement which in some cases involves completing a master’s degree program.
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Have you had a mentor or someone who has influenced you?

A lady whose mother I took care of when I had just come to America has greatly influenced my journey of becoming a nurse. Ever since she found out that I was in school for nursing, she has been encouraging me to keep going. She has always made me feel cared for even if I do not have family here in America. She always calls to check on me so that I do not feel alone. Her caring attitude has really made me feel that I matter.

Have the events of the past year and the pandemic influenced your studies or the way you see your future career at all?

Yes, the events in the past year and the pandemic have influenced my studies and the way I see my future career. When the pandemic was at its peak last year, school and classes were remote, and I could not get in touch with my study group. Some of my friends got sick from COVID-19, and we could not even meet or hang out for a long time. I felt very lonely and so sad because I spent most of my time by myself.

This pandemic taught me to stand strong through challenges and to keep going regardless of the situation, because accomplishing my goals requires such skill. Living in a pandemic so early on in my career, has assured me that I am where I need to be. It has influenced my future career in that I know how challenging this field can get and has assured me that I can handle it.

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Through this pandemic, I have learned several essential nursing skills required to become a great nurse. From experience, working as a patient care associate in a community hospital, I have also learned that nurses should use the required precautions the right way in order to protect themselves and take good care of very sick patients without spreading infections. I now know what it takes to be a nurse and to be in this amazing field.

What has helped you succeed as a nursing student?

I am goal oriented. I set goals for myself which include small goals that I believe help me achieve my major goals. This type of skill has really helped me to focus on important tasks, with understanding expectations, and by giving me motivation to get my work done on time. I also organize my time well. I have time to study, time to work, and time to relax.

Being organized has helped me avoid being burned out. I am optimistic as well. Nursing school can be very challenging because preparing for exams, completing clinical hours, going to class, and managing other responsibilities can be overwhelming. However, I look at the bright side of it all. Instead of dwelling on challenging situations, I look for solutions, and I keep going because I am sure and I believe that there is a bright light ahead—in the end, I will be successful.

What are your next steps after graduation?

My major goal for after graduation is to get a nursing job so that I can start taking care of the sick and improve my nursing skills. Since learning in healthcare is ongoing, I will take on any opportunity that will come my way to further my education so that I can improve my professional experience in nursing practice. I also want to take part in various community healthcare projects. That way, I will be able to give back to my community through improving people’s health.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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