Ayrton Breckenridge

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics graduate nurse Lydia Leyden poses for a portrait on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

UI College of Nursing alumni thrust into pandemic care after graduation

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics nurses are seeing fewer numbers of COVID-19 patients in units like the Intensive Care Unit and mother/baby care units.

Work in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Intensive Care Unit for nurse Madeline Volk has been more than intense over the past year.

Five patients in the ICU died from COVID-19 during her first shift in July 2021. She said that some days, all 26 beds on the unit were filled with COVID-19 patients.

“It was tough because there was a lot of death hitting and a lot of things were just hitting me early on in my nursing career,” she said. “For right now, it isn’t as big as it was in the hospital at least. It is almost like I am transitioning from school to work again.”

Lydia Leyden, a UI College of Nursing alum and UIHC registered nurse, started working in the mother/baby care unit on Feb. 21.

“When we started nursing school, the pandemic really took off, so I feel like I have almost not even known what [work] would be without it,” she said. “Our unit used to be able to have multiple visitors and even children could come, but I have never even experienced that.”

Leyden said she was nervous because she heard see people say that nursing students who graduated during the pandemic would have less experience.

“I will say that some of our clinical experiences were cut a little bit short because of everything that was going on,” she said. “They did try to add some extra classes for us to review nursing skills and stuff –– they did what they could during the unprecedented times of COVID-19.”

Leyden interned for 225 hours during her senior year in her current unit in UIHC.

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“It’s nice getting that prior experience and jumping in where I left off,” she said.

She said the mother/baby care unit is adequately staffed at UIHC, but nationally there is a nursing shortage.

“I think that more people are getting sicker and coming in, which makes it harder,” Leyden said.

According to the American Nurses Association, nearly 500,000 seasoned registered nurses are expected to retire by 2022. The association’s report says that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for 1.1 million new nurses to prevent a nursing shortage.

Infographic by Anthony Neri/The Daily Iowan.

Jana Wessels, associate vice president for human resources at UI Health Care, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that over the past five years, UIHC’s retention rates have remained consistent with health care industry averages.

“Pre-pandemic, our retention rate was greater than 90 percent,” she wrote. “Like most other health systems around the country, we have seen an increase in staff turnover during the pandemic.”

Wessels wrote that the most common reasons for staff turnover at UIHC include:

  • Retirement
  • Plans to take a break and return to the industry post-pandemic
  • Accepting a position as a travel nurse

“We’ve been able to continue delivering high-quality care despite these challenges, thanks to staff who have been willing to step outside of their comfort zone and cross-train to assist in high-need areas, providing relief and support to staff in those units,” she wrote.

Leyden said she has heard from some friends who want to do travel nursing after gaining experience in an inpatient experience.

“Having someone new come in and be paid more than you is frustrating because the nurses have been working for a long time and are loyal to that hospital,” she said. “But obviously, travelers are needed because of staffing issues. There are pros and cons to each side.”

Leyden said she works with some COVID-19 patients who are in the mother/baby care unit to give birth. She said the numbers of COVID-19 cases fluctuate in her unit.

“It is scary, and it does add a lot to make sure you have your proper PPE while going into the room,” she said. “You have to make sure that you get everything that you need for that patient and but also not leaving them alone.”

After the UIHC Intensive Care Unit was nearly at capacity for weeks, Volk said all of the unit’s beds were not COVID-19 patients about three weeks ago. She said her charge nurse brought in cupcakes for the occasion.

“It was like a big celebration,” she said.

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