On the front lines

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 23, 2020

KSU student nurses help out in the fight against coronavirus

After every shift, Cheyenne Murphy peels off her face shield, then the mask underneath. Then she takes off the N95 mask required of all medical personnel working in hospitals—the one she’ll have to reuse the next shift.

She takes off a gown she wears over her scrubs and hangs it up; she’ll wear it again for the next shift. Finally, she doffs the booties she wears over her shoes.

Cheyenne Murphy
Cheyenne Murphy
The Kennesaw State senior nursing major in the Wellstar School of Nursing spends a couple days a week in an externship at Wellstar Cobb Hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit. In that unit, she helps enforce the difficult policy of one visitor per patient, despite the number of family members who want to see the emergence of new life.

“During a shift now versus what it used to be, anyone present for delivery must wear an excessive amount of personal protective equipment,” she said. “It takes a toll on the skin. You have to wear a full-face shield, too.”

She goes to work early and comes home late, emotionally and physically drained, but wouldn’t have changed anything about how she spent her final spring break—and how she’ll spend at least two days a week until she graduates in July.

“Healthcare is crazy lately, but I love it from the bottom of my heart,” said Murphy.

Experience at Area Hospitals

KSU nursing students are gaining valuable experience and lending a hand at the forefront of the fight against a global pandemic through externships at Atlanta-area hospitals. Georgia’s nursing shortage was profound before the coronavirus pandemic, so Wellstar donated nearly $9 million to KSU’s School of Nursing to address it over the coming years. Now the contributions of a group of KSU student nurses have become even more critical in the healthcare world.

Director of the Wellstar School of Nursing and associate professor Yvonne Eaves said the nurse externs have distinguished themselves at medical centers throughout the region, especially under trying circumstances. The success of these student nurses also shows the high quality of the education they’ve received so far at KSU.

Laura Hnat
Laura Hnat
“We are extremely proud of our nursing students, who are doing their part to provide direct care to patients,” Eaves said. “The fact that some of our nursing students are working alongside other health care professionals during this unprecedented time shows their dedication and commitment to the care of persons in our communities and societies.”

Student nurses like Murphy and her classmate Laura Hnat have worked long hours and gained valuable experience, while sacrificing time with family and friends.

“Some days I’m okay with everything; other days, if I’m watching the news too much, I get a little down,” said Hnat, who works her externship at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. “My mother is in a higher risk category, so she’s nervous about me going to the hospital every day for work. Making sure I don’t expose my mother stresses me out a little.”

Calm in the Storm

Honors student Megan Koblitz has worked as a student nurse extern at Wellstar Kennestone since December 2019 and will continue to do so until she graduates in July 2021. She keeps a highly detailed checklist of the tasks to do while working the day shift.

“Every four hours I take vital signs and blood glucose,” she explained. “I check on the patients to ensure proper safety measures are followed and generally to see if they’ve strayed far from their baseline. I try to focus less on the panic-driven madness and more on making sure that people are feeling the best that they can.”

Ashleigh Labonte
Ashleigh Labonte
The personal protective equipment (PPE) each nurse must wear requires another set of checks. Ashleigh Labonte, a senior Honors student majoring in nursing, has worked on the Women’s Unit at Kennestone since December 2019. She said she takes added precautions before and after each shift, and within each shift to prevent infection.

“Currently, the standards on our floor are masks at all times, and we will wear full PPE when going into a potential or confirmed COVID-19 patient’s room on the floor,” she explained. “I make sure to change my clothes before going into the house and put them directly into the wash. I also leave my shoes outside and spray them down with disinfecting spray after each shift..”

Strong Commitment to Nursing

The students said their experience with trauma of the past month might have altered their career goals a little, but not their commitments to nursing.

“I’m interested in women’s services. However, dealing with the pandemic has been interesting,” Murphy said, “My primary choice is labor and delivery, but I’m open to trauma, the emergency room or the intensive care unit because you can make an impact.”

Labonte said her experience has solidified her commitment to the field. She added that she loves how the nurses at Kennestone have become a cohesive and supportive unit over the past several weeks.

“This experience hasn’t changed my career goals at all. If anything, it has made me realize how crucial the nursing field is,” she said. “We also see, firsthand, the impact we can have on the world in our future careers, and that is a truly amazing experience.”

Koblitz echoed the sentiments, saying the diversity of her experience has opened her mind to the possibilities throughout the medical field.

“I still want to go into the ICU or operating room when I graduate, but there are so many opportunities,” she said.

Community Support

Eaves said KSU stands at the forefront of addressing the state’s nursing shortage, and the nursing students’ experiences in the current environment will go a long way toward strengthening their desire to serve the world in this critical field.

Labonte said the experience has opened her eyes to the support for nurses within the community at large, something she hopes will continue long after the pandemic ends.

“I have been overwhelmed by the community’s support for hospital staff during this time,” said Labonte, who will graduate in December and will continue to work as a nurse extern until passing the NCLEX exam required of every prospective nurse.

“If anything, I truly believe that this experience will give us a newfound love and appreciation for each other as human beings, and I hope we carry that with us long after this is over.”

– Dave Shelles

Submitted photos

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.