New nurses in Ontario are “trying too hard, too often and too soon.” That’s the reality of work under COVID-19.

Eleenoy Umansky graduated from nursing school right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He landed in the hospital’s surgical unit in November 2020, just as the second wave of the pandemic was strengthening its grip on Ontario. Throughout her short time on the job, she has seen many experienced nurses leave the profession, in what she called a “mass exodus.”

Beyond the nursing shortage, the pandemic led to a huge backlog of surgical procedures in which, as COVID numbers rose, surgeries slowed down.

According to Umansky, many nurses from the surgical unit were assigned to the intensive care unit and emergency departments because they were overwhelmed.

On top of that, patients who were not as seriously ill were placed in beds in the surgical unit as they were limited in the intensive care unit and the emergency department. This was a way of dealing with the “hallway infirmary,” where a patient is cared for in a hallway or other unconventional setting while waiting for a hospital bed.

It is a reality similar to that faced by many nurses who started careers during the pandemic. And it’s one that has made at least some worry about how long they’ll be able to stay at work, no matter how guilty they feel about leaving.

“I think it’s very common for new nurses to struggle in general at first,” said Umansky, a graduate of Ryerson University. “But adding the pandemic layer definitely made me feel like I was too stretched, too often and too soon.”

Six months into her career, Umansky said she was already taking shifts as a charge nurse, as her unit was experiencing a staff shortage, meaning she was leading others. People are surprised, he said, when he tells them how long he’s been at work.

“Working during COVID (is) like working five years,” Umansky said. “This is how I feel. It just made me old as a nurse. “

Canadian nurses in general have struggled with their mental health due to the victims of the pandemic.

A report released in October by the Ontario Science Board on burnout in healthcare workers in hospitals said interventions should be made to target those “most at risk and affected by burnout,” which includes nurses, units intensive care and emergency department personnel. , women, scholars and recent graduates. It referred to “evidence of high stress and the intention to leave nursing” being particularly common among recent graduates.

Birgit Umaigba, clinical instructor in Bachelor of Science nursing programs at Centennial College and York University, told The Star that new graduates often quit early in their career, depending on the level of support they receive. He said the large number of senior nurses leaving the field has an impact on the peer-to-peer support new graduates receive.

“If (a nurse) has a heavier assignment, there is (just) a lot she can do to help the next person. It’s almost impossible. You don’t want to talk to anyone. He wants to complete his work and he wants to go home, ”said Umaigba, who is a registered nurse who works in the intensive care unit and the emergency department.

“If you are overworked, you don’t have time to train anyone. So God bless the nurses who are still trying to do this heavy lifting and mentoring someone who needs to learn, ”continued Umaigba. “Nurses need more support to be able to support nurses. It’s not that nurses don’t want to support new graduates. We just don’t have the resources to do it. We need more support to be able to do that. “

Sebastian Warchol has been working as a registered nurse in a hospital emergency department for almost a year. At first, he said, he was surprised by the gap between available nurses and the number of patients.

It’s a reality that you eventually have to come to terms with to get the job done, he said.

“What happened at some point (in the pandemic) is you can have a greater number of patients coming in and it doesn’t really matter because generally the same number of staff is assigned to that specific area,” said Warchol, a Ryerson Graduate Fellow. from the University and Centennial College.

“So, it’s like you have to cope. You may get an extra nurse, but for the most part you just have to make do with what you have. That set me back. “

The staffing shortage makes it difficult to build morale, Umansky said.

“I don’t want to be (in the surgical unit) forever. I want to explore something else. But there is an immense amount of blame, ”Umansky said. “We have so many people leaving. Sometimes I feel that many things depend on me.

“Even after a year, I feel that way. I can’t even imagine how the nurses who have been there for 20 years feel ”.

While being considered a “hero” is a nice gesture, doing the “three nurse job” without what she considers an adequate salary makes it difficult for her to be encouraged about the future.

As the number of cases increases and Omicron will become the new dominant variant in Ontario, Umansky says he does not feel support from the government or the public for health workers, although the message at the beginning of the pandemic was “we are in this together “.

“I went to work after the first wave. And they were all, ‘Oh, we appreciate our health heroes blah blah blah,’ “he said. “I was hoping that getting into work would be very supportive because that’s what I felt the media portrayed.

“I knew it was going to be difficult, but I felt that (there would be support).”

Nurses have always been at the forefront of healthcare, but never more critical than during the COVID-19 crisis. In this ongoing series, we explore the many issues that plague nursing.


The conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.

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