Working on the front lines of health care during the COVID-19 pandemic has been exhausting and stressful, but a group of eight nurses at uLethbridge pursued a Master of Nursing degree at the same time.

Kathy Haight was the instructor for their MN project proposal course and oversaw the completion of their projects.

“I can certainly attest to their hard work, dedication to their studies, physical and mental exhaustion at times and their resilience,” she says. “They are a remarkable group who are very caring, humble and have great potential to be leaders and change agents in the profession.”

“Working full-time, being a mother and completing a nursing graduate degree part-time was not easy,” says Edmonton-based Dawn Power (MN ’21), a kidney transplant coordinator at the University of Alberta Hospital. “There were many times I wanted to throw my laptop out the window out of frustration. Completing my degree while not living in Lethbridge sort of kept me on the fringes of the class and the COVID-19 pandemic only amplified this fact.”

“The last year was exceedingly hard; the school work was time consuming, heavy in volume and required a lot of writing and rewriting,” says Lisa Zoeteman (MN ’21), a Calgary nurse who typically works in organ and tissue donation, but is also frequently redeployed to intensive care because of the pandemic. “I also needed to factor in work and call.”

Kira Scott (MN ’21) works as a program coordinator at a family practice clinic in Lethbridge and she began the MN program on a part-time basis in 2015, given she had a young child, worked full-time and had been away from school for 10 years.

“Even before COVID, the things I learned in the program stretched me professionally and personally,” says Scott. “I don’t think there was one semester I didn’t cry. But it was the support of some new friends and colleagues that helped to push me through school. I wanted to throw in the towel many times, but any time I wavered on that precipice, my friends would talk me down.”

Nicole Gibson (BN ’13, MN ’21) handles multiple roles working as an infusion and home registered nurse for INVIVA through McKesson Canada, a company that distributes pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and health information technology, and in ambulatory care at Chinook Regional Hospital. Add being a single mother and student to the mix.

“My family, friends and co-workers kept me motivated throughout my master’s journey, especially during times when I felt like quitting,” says Gibson.

Their persistence throughout the waves of the pandemic, when demands on their professional time became even more onerous, is a testament to their professional and personal commitment.

“I started the program while I was on maternity leave with my daughter,” says Melissa Findlay (BN ’14, MN ’21), an RN who works in the Emergency department at Chinook Regional Hospital. “When I returned to work in March 2020, COVID was relatively new and I was uneasy about returning to work. Thankfully, I was surrounded by my incredible colleagues and we supported each other as we navigated the frontline of the pandemic.”

Having support from their instructors, fellow students and families was crucial in helping them succeed in the program.

“Thankfully, I had an amazing husband who stepped up; he did the cooking and the cleaning while I spent the evenings and weekends working on my assignments,” says Zoeteman. “I was very fortunate to meet some amazing women who started the program with me in 2016. They were instrumental in supporting me and helping me keep my sanity. I am blessed to call them friends. They knew when to challenge me and when to let me vent and cry.”

“I managed to stay on track by keeping myself organized,” says Power. “As an RN, I have worked throughout the pandemic and thus, I had to try to stick to a strict schedule in order to successfully complete all the assignments, presentations and papers required of me.”

“Without the support of friends, family and my husband, son and pup, I don’t know I could have made it through,” says Scott. “Many times, I had no idea where the thoughts would come from to finish my papers and develop my project. I learned from others and just kept going because the reality is I had no choice. I wasn’t willing to admit defeat after all my hard work and the emotional toll.”

For Dawn Power, the first sign that she was in the right program came with an enthusiastic welcome from Dr. Shannon Spenceley, former professor and interim dean.

“Every course I completed, the professors made me feel like I belonged,” she says. “Every one of us in the class was more than a student number. We were treated as valuable participants on our educational journeys.”

“Kathy Haight was amazing,” says Zoeteman. “I would email her and let her know I was starting call. She was always supportive and encouraged me to take care of myself and take a break if needed. Knowing she was in my corner and understood the uncertainty of my schedule alleviated a lot of my anxiety.”

“I had several MN instructors throughout the program who contributed to my success in unique ways,” says Gibson. “Kathy Haight pushed me to limits I never knew existed and brought my way of thinking about situations, my academic writing and project management to a higher level.”

As they look back on their time as graduate students, a few points of advice for current students emerge — find a support group within your program, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors, try to find a balance between work, school and your personal life, keep your eye on the finish line, stick to a schedule and, perhaps most important, believe in yourself.

“You are more capable than you think you are,” says Findlay. “When I started this program, I doubted myself and didn’t think I had it in me to successfully complete this program, with working as an RN, COVID and two babies. I took it one day at a time and continued to set short- and long-term goals. This really helped me push through and finish the program. You can do anything you put your mind to!”