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'Every day is a complete whirlwind': the first year of a nurse starting her career during the pandem


Taylor Boelte says it feels like she’s been a nurse for 10 years already.

One year ago, Boelte spoke with WNIJ as a fresh nursing school graduate about going into the field in the midst of a pandemic. Now, a year into her career as a nurse during COVID-19, how has it been, and how prepared has she’s felt?

“I can't believe it's only been a year,” she said.

Way back in March of 2020, she was one of many nursing students forced to leave in the middle of clinical shifts as hospitals braced for the first COVID surges and tried to preserve personal protection equipment or PPE.

Now, she’s found herself caught in the middle of yet another COVID wave as a full-time nurse at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford.

“Every day is a complete whirlwind. It's like 12, 13, or 14 hours of nonstop patient care, hardly sitting down and running from room to room,” she said. “It’s exhausting, mentally and physically -- and I'm only 24.”

Boelte’s experience at SwedishAmerican has been far different than she expected. She got the job after graduating from Lewis University, where she spent a good part of her senior year learning remotely.

“Initially, [I was] hired for an orthopedic and neurology floor. Since our hospital, and just our region in Rockford has been so full with COVID we've had a sprinkle of every sort of patient; we have COVID patients, we have ICU transfers,” said Boelte.

She has at least one COVID patient every shift.

“And that's just because our COVID floor is completely full,” she said. “Our ICU is completely full, and so we have nowhere for other patients to go. So, it's kind of sprinkled on every floor right now.”

Even though she was thrown into the field during a chaotic time, she says her education prepared her well.

“Luckily, I had really, really good preceptors and amazing bosses that helped me to learn and that trained me, so I was able to take care of patients safely and efficiently,” she said.

As she was finishing her degree in the fall of 2020, Boelte returned to the hospital where she had done her clinical work. She saw nurses who were burnt out and almost immune to the death they saw so much.

Since then, she’s seen a lot of nurses leave the field entirely. She says that, in part, leads to really difficult staffing shortages.

“Yes, we've had a lot of staff leave,” said Boelte. “I think our nursing CEO said we had like 64 travelers in our hospital right now from nurses to techs.”

Before those travel nurses came, Boelte says it was difficult to find a way to sit with her patients and talk with them.

“It's been hard to kind of like carve out that special time to spend with them, which is so important right now because we're really the only people they see because we don't allow visitors in the hospital right now,” said Boelte. “And some people are here for months.”

It’s often overwhelming, she says, especially when it’s hard to see an end to the pandemic. But she makes it clear her feelings about nursing haven’t changed – and she’s not leaving any time soon.

“Whether that's holding up a FaceTime call with a family member for a patient since we don't allow guests here, or kind of being the middleman between specialists and physicians to keep family updated with everything going on and holding patient's hands and praying over them,” she said.

Boelte says there’s been plenty of venting and solidarity with her fellow nurses.

“For the people that have been there for the long haul, it’s definitely a bond that nobody really understands in any other aspects of my life,” she said.

One thing that helps her get through the day: there are always people who get better.

“I had a patient the other day that went from 50 liters of high flow oxygen to just five liters on her nasal cannula overnight,” said Boelte. “And this was someone we didn't think was going to recover.”

It’s been a long first year for Boelte, one that, as she says, has often felt like 10. But right now, she says she’s just hoping for an end of COVID in sight -- and, that people don’t lose trust in her and the rest of the healthcare field through the pandemic.

Copyright 2022 WNIJ Northern Public Radio. To see more, visit WNIJ Northern Public Radio.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.
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