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When Mount Carmel East Registered Nurses Emilie Vassar and Kyle Stagg graduated from Mount Carmel College of Nursing (MCCN) in 2018 and 2019, they never could have predicted what the day-to-day of their jobs would look like in 2020.

“The surgical trauma step down unit we work in was totally transformed into a COVID-19 patient unit,” Stagg said. “It’s been a huge undertaking. I’m glad I had at least one year of working under my belt.”

Vassar agrees, adding that the added precautions and protocols of the pandemic have sped up her learning about safety and risks.

“All my nursing experience up to this point took a complete right turn when this pandemic happened and we had to start caring for COVID-19 patients,” Vassar said. “It was totally unchartered waters for everyone, but I work with some amazing nurses who provided great leadership. I could not have made it this far without them.”

Vassar and Stagg were both students at the Mount Carmel College of Nursing, and both started working in the surgical step-down unit at Mount Carmel East within a month of their respective graduations in 2018 and 2019.

“Our professors at MCCN taught us to always be prepared for the unexpected,” Vassar said. “With my patients, you never know what the next couple of hours will hold for them. They could do great and hold stable, or something could completely flip and suddenly you’re calling for rapid response—there’s no way to predict what any shift will hold, so you have to be ready and willing to learn and adjust every day.”

“You always know in the back of your mind that something big like this could happen, but you never actually expect it,” Stagg added, “So when it happens, your true reasons and passions for being a nurse come out. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person because I know this is exactly what I want to do and that I’ve chosen the right profession.”

But as passionate as these nurses are about their job, they both agreed that it’s important to lean on other people to get through this time, whether it’s asking questions on the job, or having someone outside of work to talk to at the end of the day.

“I have definitely leaned on the knowledge and confidence of the more experienced nurses,” said Vassar. “I can’t be afraid to ask questions, because it’s the only way to learn and help my patients. That was lesson number one for me on the job.”

Stagg agreed, saying that he’s grateful to benefit from the leadership team, his unit, and his fellow nurses. Additionally, because his fiancé also is a nurse, he has a strong support system at home.

“The sense of teamwork, and also being motivated by our patients getting better is what’s getting us through,” he said. “And I’m so thankful for the preparation I had at MCCN. This is never something we could have practiced for, but I felt so prepared because the program is so well-rounded. The college does a really great job.”

Vassar agreed, adding that every day she remembers her professors telling her to be ready for the unexpected.

“I was always ready for the worst, but I’m always hoping for the best.”

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