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Health-care heroics

Pandemic image inspires spring nursing graduates to join front lines

special feature: Class of 2021

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.

By Marcia Porter

You may have seen the photo on social media last February: two retired nurses, dressed in white jumpsuits, blue gloves, N95 masks and face shields and braving blizzard conditions at a drive-thru COVID-19 clinic.

The widely shared image caught the attention of spring bachelor of nursing graduates Claire Nash and Catherine Whiffen of St. John’s and Josh McLean of Green Island Cove, all immersed at the time in their final clinical placements in their degree program.

“I thought it was incredibly powerful and inspiring, and when I heard Eastern Health was looking for us to help, I really wanted to be a part of it,” said Ms. Nash, who begins her nursing career this spring on the cardiology floor of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s.

“I thought they were the heroes of our lockdown. I wanted to join them. I really wanted to be on the front lines if I could.”

Eastern Health connected with the Faculty of Nursing and the Centre for Nursing Studies to recruit fourth-year students as nurse collegians during last February’s COVID-19 outbreak.

From left are Josh McLean, Claire Nash and Catherine Whiffen at the Eastern Health swabbing clinic in Mount Pearl in March 2021.
Photo: Submitted

Encouraged by her family, including her grandmother, a retired nurse who spent her career at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, Ms. Nash submitted her name almost immediately, and was one of 34 nursing students hired to help support pandemic relief.

As COVID-19 testing clinics ramped up, students had some physically distanced swab training in preparation for pitching in at the drive-thru sites.

Josh McLean
Photo: Submitted

“I had the chance to do new tasks that I have learned over the last four years. And I also really enjoyed working in vaccine clinics,” said Mr. McLean, who will begin in the Health Sciences Centre’s urology unit this spring.

“I got to work along some wonderful nurses that had many years of experience, some retired and returned to work to assist, and I got to work with other brand-new nurses like me.”

Mount Pearl was ground zero in the province’s last COVID-19 outbreak, and was the focus of large and concentrated testing efforts.

When Ms. Nash was called to work a shift at the Reid Centre, she says she was both nervous and excited.

“It kind of hit me that I could be directly in contact with COVID-19,” she said. “But I knew that I was the most protected I could be working there because of the personal protective equipment, and how strict (enforcement) was.”

What Ms. Nash and the others hadn’t expected in such urgent circumstances was a supportive, positive working environment.

Catherine Whiffen
Photo: Submitted

“Seeing how the community thanked and appreciated the work we were doing on the front lines was very rewarding,” said Ms. Whiffen, who begins her career at the Perioperative Division of the Children and Women’s Health Program at the Janeway this spring.

“Working alongside the nurses and other health-care professionals and seeing how positive and resilient they were make me look forward to my future nursing career.”

It’s the kind of experience that will stay with each of them as they begin their working lives, they say.

“No matter how tough times get, when we all come together we can always make things work,” said Mr. McLean.

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