In December 2019, Dhivya Eapen was nine months pregnant with her third child and one term away from completing the Master of Nursing program at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and everything changed.
“It was a juggling act to keep up, with the program and the recent changes in my family all in the middle of additional COVID related pressures,” says Eapen.
Of all the unforeseen challenges, the biggest hurdle Eapen says, was the shift to online learning combined with her role as a mom, helping her older children navigate virtual schooling too. The double duty that many parents faced, was made even more challenging for Eapen who also had to attend her clinical placement at Sunnybrook Hospital in the middle of Ontario’s second wave and soaring COVID-19 infections.
Burnout among nursing staff and subsequent shortages were a battle, but Eapen recalls being inspired in her clinical placement by the nursing leaders who continued to step up, from trying to find solutions for shortage issues, to continuing to train with students who had yet to even experience a clinical environment during a pandemic.
“The primary thing for me, was to press on, keep going, and know my why. Why am I doing this, why am I a nurse? And to keep coming back to that,” says Eapen.
Part of that fiery determination to succeed stems for Eapen from her own mother who was also a registered nurse. She recalls seeing at a young age the challenges of nursing, and would witness her mother get up each day, get dressed, and keep going.
“It was why I wanted to become a nurse, it suited my personality and the value system I grew up with, the concept of being in service to others, and exuding that quiet strength,” says Eapen.
Pursuing a graduate degree in nursing was something Eapen had considered for a while, and with the encouragement of her first hiring manager, she returned to Bloomberg Nursing at the University of Toronto to enhance her knowledge and career in the nursing field. Completing her Master’s Eapen says, has fueled her passion for inquiry, and has shifted her mind set to look at some of the more complex societal drivers that impact the health care system.
“Though I’ve only recently returned to work, I already know I want to focus more on the health, wellness and retention of nurses, and be a transformative agent in the health care system focused on innovation,” says Eapen.
As a new graduate, now on the other side of an unprecedented academic term, Eapen acknowledges that there is also a lot of good that has come out of her unique learning experience, including her ability to share her knowledge and experience with current undergraduate students in her role as a teaching assistant, and the way she and her older daughter bonded over the challenges of online learning.
“I’m very fortunate that I had a strong support network which included my husband and our parents, who helped immensely with childcare so that I could continue with work and my program,” says Eapen. “I’m also grateful to the faculty who helped us through.”
As for future nursing students, whether they are pursuing a graduate degree or just entering the profession, Eapen wants them to know that nurses are still answering the call, and that the role of the nurse goes well beyond the images we see in media.
“Press on, keep going, reach out” says Eapen.
“You can persevere knowing the answer to your why and remember that you matter! COVID-19 has challenged us in many ways globally. If you have the passion and the power to pursue higher education, see this as an opportunity for the taking. Every nurse can help transform health and healthcare as we know it.”