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From Students to Graduates: 3 Perspectives on Entering the Healthcare Workforce During a Pandemic

December 7, 2020

The newest article in the Stories from Field series features guest authors from Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and Barret Honors College. Three graduates share their experiences of their final semester, including moral distress and student and care provider well-being, as they transition into the workforce during these unprecedented times.

Coping With Moral Distress As Graduates

By Kacey Cavanagh

Kacey CavanaghNo student was prepared for the quarantine that took over the Spring 2020 semester. In addition to losing my in-person graduation, I also lost 132 ICU clinical hours I was going to complete and a project that was going to give me my last honors credits to be a Barrett Honors College graduate. When discussing alternatives to an honors project with my nursing professors and fellow honors students, an article on moral distress was brought up after sharing how we were coping with the recent big changes.

Moral distress in nursing

Moral distress in the nursing career is finally starting to be addressed by employers and other investors. However, as a group of four students and two nursing faculty members, we asked: is the distress that is brought by the intensity of nursing education being addressed? Arizona State University and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation both have great programs to support student success and mental stability, but all of us agreed that we experienced moral distress as students and wish we would have been more prepared.

A vlogging realization

We decided to make a vlog type project that would cover what advice we would give to new nursing students in order to cope with moral distress. The end product included our takes on all four semesters at Edson.

This approach was really beneficial because it addressed the fact that everyone copes with moral distress differently. Though not everyone struggles with the same issues at the same time, by looking at each semester, we realized there is a general consensus of what challenges are faced with each nursing education topic and expectations of each semester.

I am confident that the video we created will give future students a more realistic expectation of their next two years and more firm grounding when beginning. 

We each ended by stating what advice we would give to our future self; this was the hardest part for me. I chose to remind myself that as nurses we are always learning, and it is okay to not know everything. This piece of advice still rings true, but looking back I realize that is stemmed from my fear of the unknown future.

Now, as I have worked to surround myself with positivity and light, I would use the advice of my favorite influencer, Tabitha Brown: “Let me tell you what I know about a storm. Honey, a storm is meant to replenish. Yeah! Rain? Honey, showers of rain? Honey, [it] brings about greener grass, beautiful flowers, and sometimes off in the distance, maybe even a rainbow.”

Kacey Cavanagh, BSN, RN, taught anatomy labs and participated in many organizations such as being a campus tour guide and Camp Kesem counselor. She shares her experience entering the workforce as a graduate nurse at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on the PICU/Respiratory unit and hopes to contribute research to being ecologically sustainable in healthcare, as well as teach future nurses.

Preparing Students, From a Student’s Perspective

By Shelby Nelson

Shelby NelsonThere comes a time in every nurse’s career when they will experience moral distress. Though it may be “part of the job,” it can be extremely taxing on the nurse.

During nursing school, we do not experience moral distress in the same way as registered nurses, as we are not in charge of patient care and do not make decisions in ethical dilemmas. Nonetheless, nursing school is demanding and oftentimes students are strained. Therefore, it is essential we address moral distress to help the well-being of future students.

Leaving something for future students

At the end of my final semester as an ASU nursing student, I had the opportunity to work on a Barrett project with three of my peers that focused on moral distress specifically in nursing school at ASU. In this vlog style project, we gave advice to future Edson students, with the hope of providing guidance for them as they take on nursing school.

In the end, we created four short videos addressing each of the terms, along with advice we have for our future. We discussed unique challenges we faced, and we are hopeful that it’ll be helpful for nursing students to hear advice from individuals that once sat in their seats.

Graduating during a pandemic

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, moral distress in nursing has been more prevalent than ever with limited PPE and demanding workloads. The world has borne witness to the trials and tribulations that nurses and other healthcare professionals have endured.

Did I ever think I would graduate during a pandemic? No, not at all. Be that as it may, I am more eager than ever to start working as a registered nurse so I can do my part during these historic times. With the education I have received and the ongoing support of my faculty members in Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, I am confident I will succeed.

Shelby Nelson, BSN, RN, was born and raised in Arizona and is rounding out her family of Sun Devil alumni and reflects on her time as a student at ASU. She was a part of the Barret Honors College, Sigma Kappa and worked as an Assistant House Manager at ASU Gammage. She one day hopes to work on a Bone Marrow Transplant unit and looks forward to starting her career as a nurse. 

Last Moments of College, New Changes for the Future

By Gabrielle Borgogni

Gabrielle BorgogniI graduated college amidst a worldwide pandemic. I never, even once, thought about uttering those words. But yet, here we are! Even though last moments in college were lost, I learned a lot during my time in ‘quarantine’ and was able to really reflect upon my years as a nursing student.

Reducing the knowledge gap

During my last semester as an ASU nursing student, my peers and I set out to reduce that knowledge gap. My peers and I all felt the pressure to decide on which specialty of nursing we would like to pursue, but for some it is not clear cut and miss the last moments of college because they are so stressed. Given that our clinical rotations consist of three to six clinical days per specialty, we reassured these students that it is okay to not know what you want to do and that this decision does not set the rest of your career. For many of us, that is why we chose nursing, because it is so flexible to move from pediatrics to adult care or mental health to the emergency room.

From students to nurses

That brings me to today and how I am looking at my future. I have the BSN and the RN license and now I have to put it to practice. To say this is not daunting would be a lie due to the current state of the world. Due to COVID-19, our last clinical rotation that was intended to transition us from students to nurses, was canceled.

It does weigh on my mind if I am actually prepared to start a job on an intensive care unit in a few weeks. I remember, however, that I have an excellent education to build from and that I can use the advice I have given nursing students to get through this transitional period. I have amazing friendships to rely on, I understand that my first specialty is not where I will be forever, and I know why I chose nursing: to be a light to those who are scared and the most vulnerable they have ever been. I am ready to be that light.

Gabrielle Borgogni, BSN, RN, talks about graduating  from Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at ASU in May 2020. She graduated with a BSN and a minor in Spanish. She grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona,  but is now ready for a change of scenery as she begins her nursing career in Durham, North Carolina at Duke University Hospital on the Cardiothoracic ICU.


Special thanks to the Director of the Grace Center for Innovation in Nursing Education and Edson College IP Guiding Coalition member, Margaret Calacci, for her support of this article and the guest authors.





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