As it has done for many of us, COVID-19 has driven a wedge between Caitlin Mareska and the people she loves most.
Since moving to Lakes Entrance to begin her student placement at BRHS two months ago, the final year Federation Uni nursing student has seen her family in person only once, making do otherwise with seeing their faces through a screen on her phone.
As for catching up with her friends in Morwell, usually a huge part of life for a 23-year-old in her final year of university, Snapchat has been a poor substitute.
But such are the times.
Caitlin is one of a number of nursing students currently on placement at BRHS.
And just like our staff, protecting herself, her colleagues and the community from COVID-19 is front of mind.
“The university and the education team here at BRHS have spent a lot of time making sure we know all the COVID protocols and have gone through all the necessary screening,” Caitlin said. “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 has been a huge focus of our education these past few months, obviously.”
All students doing placements at BRHS are temperature screened and questioned about recent travel and contacts. And, like all our staff, they’re given clear instruction about physical distancing, hand hygiene, and what to do in the event they feel unwell.
These young students are probably as COVID-savvy as any healthcare professional, given many of them will never have known work in a health service under any other circumstances.
In the same way we describe young people brought up in the early 2000s as “digital natives,” this new generation of nurses are “pandemic natives.”
For Caitlin, becoming a nurse is the fulfilment of an ambition she has had since she was little. Where that ambition was born is, to this day, clearly emotional for her to talk about.
“Both my grandparents spent a lot of time in hospital toward the end of their lives, and I was sitting with them a lot of that time,” she says. “So I spent a lot of time in the hospital, too. And seeing the work that nurses do really had an impact on me. It’s such important, powerful work. Since then this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
If you talk to any of the BRHS staff she’s worked with over the past few months, they’ll tell you that Caitlin’s passion for nursing is evident everyday she comes to work.
“This is the future of our health service,” says Oncology Nurse Unit Manager Kay Stephenson. “And if Caitlin and the other students we are lucky enough to have here at the moment are any indication, we’re in good hands.”
Kay says that, during the current pandemic, being able to train and mentor our next generation of healthcare workers here at BRHS is more important than ever.
“It’s pretty simple – we’re going to need to continue to build a skilled workforce if we’re going to be able to keep serving the community as we have,” Kay says.
“Every nurse working today knows how important their own student placements were, back when they were getting started. Now that we’ve had some years of experience it’s our responsibility to repay what we were once given, ourselves, and pass that experience on.”
Caitlin says she is enormously grateful to all the nurses and staff that have helped her during her placement.
“Everyone has been so great. It’s really nice to feel so supported,” she says.
It’s an experience that, hopefully, will build a connection between Caitlin and BRHS for years to come.
“I’ve never been a big city girl,” she says. “I’d love to work in a regional hospital, and this place really feels like home.”