Breanna Zepernick graduated from Kent State Honors College. She is from Aurora, Ohio and my go-to high school dance partner. She loves to explore nature, eat all kinds of food, and spend time with friends and family. I was especially excited to interview her because not only is she a graduate, but she is a nursing graduate. She is someone who will be fighting for all of us on the front lines of this pandemic; I highly value her perspective about how it has affected not only 2020 college graduates, but how it has shaped the future of new nurses.
1. What has it been like spending your last semester under quarantine amidst the coronavirus pandemic?
Honestly, I think it was really difficult to switch from hands-on learning and being in a classroom setting to the virtual world. We already have significant virtual learning built into the nursing program, but I was in the middle of my practicum and I had only two weeks finished (I still needed 120 more hours). They completely stopped in-person clinicals because of the pandemic, and essentially to make up for this time we did online busy work. This did nothing for my learning style, and especially for nursing. You need to physically pass meds and get that hands-on experience. Anyone can read it in a book, we needed real practice. Academics were tough, but simply as a senior it was another loss. You had to completely stop hanging out with your friends, and for many you don't have the chance to even say goodbye. It was so abrupt. It was very disheartening, and an accomplishment I have been looking forward to for the past four years. All the special celebrations and milestones were taken away. It was a very mixed feeling. Part of me really wanted the honor that I worked for, but part of me also thought the ceremony might be long and boring. In the end, I am disappointed that I could not walk and experience this milestone.
2. Of all the things you missed out on because of quarantine, what has been the hardest to accept?
Quarantine made not walking across the stage one of the hardest things to accept, but for me the hands-on experience from clinicals is invaluable. The lack of physical connection with people and learning nursing skills from being personal with patients to performing my job has left me with a feeling of unpreparedness. We also had an NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination for nurses) preparation class that was completely cancelled. All the extra weeks that I should have spent preparing and studying were taken away. The Ohio Board of Nursing assigned us a temporary license as long as we could pass from an accredited college with good academic standing. However, we still need to take the exam (required to practice nursing).
3. What has been a silver lining?
I feel like you can find a silver lining in anything if you look hard enough. For quarantine, it's the fact that science is saying nature is healing (environmental recovery) and a reflection on my personal values that I took for granted. The greatest example of this is my appreciation for human connection. The simple things like going out to dinner with others is a privilege. You realize how important human connections are, and understand the necessity of being in-person to foster and grow those connections.
4. What have you done to make up for some of the graduation traditions you aren't able to do?
As I said before, one of the most important things for me was walking across the stage. It meant so much to me. My parents were so sweet. They coordinated with my family and friends to come over and be in my front yard the day that I graduated. It completely caught me off guard, I walked outside thinking we were taking grad pictures; and then I saw a bunch of thoughtful signs and people I care about. It was really nice to see everyone and share that time with them. My mom had a big dinner and we had a nice celebration. Later, I met with all my nursing friends on zoom and we talked about where we were going in this next step. We would have rather done this in-person, but over zoom wasn't too bad.
5. What are your next steps, and have they been impacted by coronavirus?
I moved out of my childhood home and I live in an apartment in Shaker Heights with my other nursing friend. It was nice because there were a lot of vacancies (due to COVID-19). I have been working in a nearby hospital, and I am scheduled to take the NCLEX in August. I will be studying a lot for it because it is farther off and I did not get to take my preparation class. I am really nervous.
6. What is the worst thing someone can say to a Class of 2020 graduate?
"It's not that big of a deal." I think it's the worst because they do not know what we are going through, and simply saying graduation is not that important is insensitive. Yeah, we are still graduating; but we have missed out on so much and who knows how much more of our lives we are going to miss out on because of the pandemic. Things can be worse, but I can't help but feel upset at what I've lost (will lose) because of the way things are. College was a really important time to me, and I am grateful I had the chance to go.
7. What is one piece of advice you would love to give to the class of 2021?
If the restrictions lighten up, do everything in your power to take advantage of all the things your school offers. Have pride in your profession, and find closure. Enjoy the sense of community (even if virtual learning) and relish in all that comes with it. You might not think it is that big of a deal, but retrospectively you don't want to have any regrets – don't take things for granted.
8. What about the last few months do you think you'll remember most?
I think I'll remember that feeling of isolation. Especially as a nurse, everyone is afraid of you and treats you like a biohazard. I feel like I am putting my life on the line caring for these people and they don't recognize or appreciate it.
9. Retrospectively, if you knew that this pandemic would happen, would you still have pursued nursing?
I cannot see myself doing anything else. It suits me, and I love being informed and in the medical field. I love being able to understand the human body and advocate for myself and people that I care about. I have always been more worried about others, and I like to help in the ways that I can to make the world better. Also, I guess there is good job security.
Thank you very much to Breanna Zepernick for taking the time to do this interview with me. Best of luck with nursing, I thank you and all your fellow medical employees for all that you do! Please keep informing and guiding us into a safe future.