Originally from Taiwan, Summer Lee has not been able to go home to see her family in over three years, and while that was challenging enough, she also had to begin her nursing program at the University of Toronto mostly online. Learning to build connections with her classmates over Zoom and maintain a social life through virtual library sessions, was something she says was often quite daunting, but she persevered. After graduating this Fall from the accelerated nursing program at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, Lee is eager to see her family again, and to travel, but she also has another goal in mind. As she begins her nursing career, Lee is keen to advocate for future generations of nursing students and inspire them to join the profession.
“I will be honest, nursing is a tough job,” says Lee, “but it is also one of the most satisfying. Sharing in some of our patients most vulnerable moments from receiving a serious diagnosis, to actively dying, or recovering is a privilege that, I don’t think you get to experience in any other career.”
Prior to beginning her nursing degree, Lee considered becoming a doctor, but she wasn’t sure it would be the right fit for her. After her first year of university, she decided to take a gap year and volunteer at Sinai Health, which is where she says she realized her true passion was in nursing.
“There was a lot of pressure for me to be a doctor, especially from my family, and people around me were surprised I was taking a gap year,” says Lee. “For me, what mattered most was figuring out what I wanted to do and not having any regrets if I was going to invest my time in more school.”
Nurses, Lee argues, are the ones who spend the most time with patients, who are able to remove barriers to care access, and provide individuals with extra support. One of the most memorable times in the program Lee recalls, was during her acute care placement on an internal medicine ward, where a patient who was diagnosed with COVID-19 succumbed to the disease. They were unable to have family around them when they died, and as a result it was just Lee and her clinical instructor who were present during the patient’s final hours.
“Being able to process that loss with my peers and my preceptor was transformative. That experience made me more passionate about my patients and validated for me why I wanted to be in nursing,” says Lee. “COVID is hard and heartbreaking, it makes it challenging even now as a new registered nurse (RN), but it is a privilege to be with patients in their final hours, it makes the role fulfilling and motivates me to continue in this career.”
Lee is not averse to talking about the challenges nurses face, particularly as she describes witnessing the health system collapsing all around them. She has seen first-hand the effects of COVID on worsening the severe nursing shortage and has experienced the distress of caring for patients while short-staffed.
Yet Lee remains hopeful, looking to the bonds she has with her patients, and the support she has received from faculty at Bloomberg Nursing to help her stay positive and even find the beauty in her career. When asked what she might say to future nursing students considering this career option Lee is hopeful they will be inspired by the collective nature of the profession.
“In spite of the challenges, we as nurses, really work as a team. I haven’t experienced anything like that before. Everyone is so genuinely willing to help each other, and we are saving lives together,” says Lee. “The best part of nursing is that we are all in this together. I hope collectively, we are able to advocate for future generations and one day change the health system, for the better.”
For now, Lee is looking forward to advancing her nursing skills keeping her options open by working in both a clinical-based position which allows her to build long-term relationships with patients, and make a difference in their day-to-day lives, while also gaining experience in acute care surgical settings in one of Toronto’s busiest multi-organ transplant units.
“I have a great support system, and I’m hopeful that I can inspire others who are thinking about a career in nursing or health care,” says Lee. “It is a tough job, it is a tough time to join, but it is also very rewarding, and the future of the health system depends on us.”