EU nursing student talks graduating into COVID-19 fight, losing last months at EU

Category:  News
Tuesday, April 28th, 2020 at 3:37 PM

As March turned to April, most were hoping the new month would bring a new outlook on life, perhaps one with better fortune. March 2020 had been a time unlike any other, even for Edinboro University. 

 On Friday, March 6, EU students rushed out of their classes with an optimism that only spring break can bring. They were set to return less than 10 days laterrenewed and reinvigorated by the break that splits up the latter half of the academic yearHowever, for Edinboro’s population, and students around the country, they would not return to campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some schools closed entirely. Others, like Edinboro, transitioned to remote classes shortly after the Ides. Everyone was adjusting on the fly to the new world they found themselves in. So, when the calendar was set to flip over to April, students were ready for a fresh start.  

March, however, had one final trick up its sleeve: on the last day of the month, an email was sent out to the Edinboro student body stating that after some research, an in-person commencement ceremony would still be held for graduating seniors. However, that ceremony would be on a date that was to be announced, somewhere off in the very murky future. Diplomas would still be issued on time, but graduation — the time-honored passage concluding the hardest academic test the students will have faced — was off.  

Lost experience

“I feel like I’m missing out on that closure and that sense of accomplishment,” said Edinboro senior nursing major Megan Rajecki. “I worked so hard and to not even be able to walk across that stage, it’s disappointing.” 

Anger and frustration and the loss of closure. For Rajecki, these feelings strike in a specific way. Many students’ lives were altered by not being able to return to campus. For Rajecki, and nursing students across the country, valuable field-oriented learning has been halted before potentially joining the work force and fighting against the virus. 

“After spring break ended, we were supposed to start our nursing practicum. Practicum is an opportunity to gain experience and function as nurses before we graduate. We are placed on a (hospital) unit with a preceptor. We set goals and accomplish them at our own pace,” she said. “To lose that experience has been really frustrating.” 

On top of the practical experience Rajecki will lose, she also spoke of culminating Edinboro moments.  

“I was really looking forward to our pinning ceremony,” said Rajecki. The pinning ceremony in the nursing community is a heartfelt moment in which the graduating nurses are presented with their nursing pin, which is then placed on them by a faculty member or loved one. “I was going to have my mom pin me. She is my inspiration for becoming a nurse. She had cancer twice when I was younger, and that was when I realized I wanted to take care of people who were sick and make an impact on them. The ceremony is something we all have been looking forward to since day one.”  

While losing those experiences is tough, Rajecki is also a realist and knows there is a life to prepare for after her time at Edinboro ends. She has already been hired at UPMC Hamot in the emergency department and is scheduled to start working there as a nurse after graduation.  

“I’m worried about how long it takes before I’m able to take my nursing boards because they are delayed,” said Rajecki. “So, in a sense, yes. There are things about graduating right now that worry me. 

Her position has not been affected by the virus, as she will be able to start working with a temporary practice permit because her board exams are delayed. Still, starting any new job can bring a plethora of emotion, let alone one that brings you to the frontlines. If fighting the new strain of coronavirus is indeed a war-time effort, then Rajecki currently finds herself on the cusp of finishing basic training.  

“I feel nervous and excited,” she said. “I focused and worked very hard in school to obtain a good base of knowledge. Now I need to be a sponge and soak in every minute of training I get while I’m on orientation. I think the information on COVID-19 is going to be a lot to keep up with while I’m still learning the basics.” 

Rajecki believes that if she were in the same position in New York City, or one of the other hot spots around the country, her outlook might be much bleaker. 

“To be put right in the middle of so many critically-ill patients without years of clinical experience and judgement, that would be scary for any new grad. Given my place of work (in Erie County), I’m not as fearful. But there’s no denying this is a tough position to step into in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Currently, in Erie County, there are 82 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. 

Leveling up

Because of COVID-19, many seniors lost their last chance to finish (or in some cases, start) their final season competing for Edinboro in a sport. Rajecki is no different. She is a member of the Edinboro Equestrian Team, serving as co-captain this year; a co-captain who was quickly ascending the ranks. 

“Megan had qualified for the regional competition in both of her classes, Limit Rider Flat and Limit Rider Fences,” said Head Coach Lew Trumble. “She had worked so hard to qualify because it was her senior year, her last year on the team.” 

In equestrian, each rider is placed in a class based on experience level, then they have the opportunity to compete in that class. Points are awarded and the riders win places and ribbons between 1st and 6th, regardless of how many competitors there are. When the rider reaches 36 points, they move up to the next division of the class. Riders who move up to the next level then qualify for a regional event which will decide – in layman’s terms – “best in show.” 

“I had just leveled-up in both of my classes, so I was going to our regional competition in two classes,” said Rajecki. “Then the regionals got canceled.” 

Rajecki has been riding horses for 12 years and has her own horse at home. She started down this path by showing dairy cows, then decided to start riding horses and has been taking riding lessons since she was 10. She progressed through her high school equestrian team and all through her time at Edinboro. As a senior, she brought more than just her ability on the saddle to the team.  

“They (Rajecki, as well as seniors Arianna Toth and Braden St. Claire) have all been active members in all of the fundraising efforts and other club activities,” said Trumble. “There are two aspects to the club, having competing team members and non-competing club members. They have been helpful to club members, getting them to the barn for lessons, and accommodating club members in scheduling of meetings and activities.”  

“I worked all year to get to that moment and was excited to go to one last regional competition before I graduated,” said Rajecki. “I didn’t get the closure of my last show or my last lesson with my team. That part of my life means a lot to me.” 

Rare stability

There is a global pandemic. The country is on the brink of a depression and the future is unclear. Despite heading to the figurative frontlines, Rajecki at least has something most people don’t right now: stability. Over the last four weeks, over 22 million unemployment claims have been filed. Finding any job, let alone a job as new college graduate, will be increasingly difficult.  

“I’m going into a field that needs nurses, especially right now, so I don’t feel that my career is being threatened,” she said. “I know there will be more learning involved because there are new procedures and protocols that come with COVID-19. It is a tough time to enter this career path. But I got into this field so I could help care for others, and right now, that is what a lot of people need.” 

For Rajecki, nursing has never been about stability or fighting on the front lines. She got into healthcare because she wanted to help people.  

As soon as she’s done at Edinboro, she will start doing just that. 

Tags: coronavirus,

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