Novice Nurse Handles Unknown During Historic COVID-19 Pandemic
By Salwa Choucair
When a knee injury sidelined her high school soccer career, Julissa Del Bosque discovered her passion for medicine and health care. What she didn’t know was that her first job as a nurse would be on a COVID-19 floor, and her last two months as a nursing student would be spent in her home taking classes and attending graduation virtually.
“The hardest part has been the unknown of everything: the unknown of the disease process, the unknown of whether or not your patients are going to get better, and the isolation of not having family and friends with them,” says Del Bosque, 26, who received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing in May 2020. After starting work in August 2020, she received about a month of training on a regular medical-surgical floor before transitioning to the COVID-19 floor at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in San Antonio.
“In nursing school, you learn about disease processes, how to manage them and the steps on talking to patients from A to Z. With COVID-19, however, it is new and physicians at first were kind of going blindly on treatment. Yes, this treatment is promising, but it is not a guarantee. That is the hardest part.”
The novice nurse is grateful for the extra clinical practice she received through the Clinical Distinction Certificate which she completed during her nursing program at UT Health. The additional hours she spent at the various community health clinics that partner with the school helped prepare her for the unknown.
“Fortunately, I had extra hours of patient interaction, practicing my skills and being involved in the profession, and that really gave me an edge, but nothing prepares you for COVID,” Del Bosque says. “If people could see the patients on the COVID unit, they would never question whether COVID was real or not. It is just so overwhelming.”
In addition to the various unknown factors she was not mentally prepared to tackle, Del Bosque and her colleagues had to follow a specific routine to protect themselves and their families as they entered the COVID-19 floor to begin their shifts.
When arriving, she would change out of the scrubs she wore from home and replace them with medical scrubs, a hairnet, an N-95 mask, a shield, a gown and two sets of gloves. She wore no makeup or jewelry. She remained in this gear for her 12-hour shift on a floor without a bathroom or break room. When taking a break, she would spend 12 to 15 minutes leaving the floor through a maze and removing everything.
On top of the personal protective equipment (PPE), Del Bosque also carried several pairs of shoes with her to each shift. She had one pair to wear between her car and the hospital, a pair for her shift, and a pair to wear from her car to her house. Her routine at home included removing her clothes inside the laundry room and placing them directly in the washing machine before taking a shower. Protecting her family was important since her mother has underlying health conditions.
“I would take home the potential of ‘what if’ and the stories of the patients,” says Del Bosque, who received her COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it was available. “Once you work for three or four days straight, you are fully immersed in their care, and with COVID patients, you are the only connection to the outside world for them. I have been learning how to disconnect from work on my days off. It has been a great learning experience to work on this floor, but it has been a lot too.”
A San Antonio native, Del Bosque graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class with plans to attend medical school. After receiving her associate’s degree from Northwest Vista College and a bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Texas at Austin, she realized that her passion was in nursing where she could truly spend time with her patients by getting to know them and helping educate them about their health.
Today, the self-proclaimed night owl works the night shift, 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., which allows her to continue her education at UT Health where she is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing program. In her second semester, she plans to help advance the nursing profession through research.
“I chose health care to truly help people,” she says. “I enjoy seeing a patient successfully discharged and taking care of themselves. I want to help patients be excited and ready to improve their own health. With nursing, I feel like I am home.”