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Published on March 09, 2021

Brianna Erickson, RN

Stronger Now Because of It: The Pandemic Journey of a First-Year Nurse

When you dive into a career like intensive care nursing, you expect it to be hard. But the reality for Brianna Erickson, RN, BSN, was spending the first year in her profession fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erickson is a Platte, S.D., native, and recently marked her first anniversary as a nurse in the ICU at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. She knows now that through those many tough weeks with her team, she learned lessons that will shape her nursing career for the better.

“A patient or a family might forget your name, but they will never forget how we made them feel,” she said. “From that first day, through the surges and the losses, I’ve never doubted myself or my decision to be a nurse.”

Bonds Built in Most Challenging Times

When Erickson reports to a shift now, she sees some glimmers of a more-normal time in a busy department that’s focused on critical thinking and service.

“Although there are fewer COVID-19 patients, the unit is still busy and we have a lot of work to do,” said Erickson. “But in most cases now, we can just mask and don eye protection and we’re OK.”

Looking back, she can see how far she’s come.

“I’m stronger now than I would have been with a more traditional introduction to nursing,” she said. “I was expecting some tough times, but there were weeks when there were many tears, every day, on my drive home or when I was getting ready for bed. There were just so many deaths.”

Erickson said she had more than one day of arriving for work to learn a patient she helped the previous shift had passed away.

“As a unit, we became so much more than we were before this started, and everyone, from my nurse leaders and managers to my teammates on either side of me, helped build me back up every time,” she said. “We all learned how important advocacy for these patients could be. We were making updates to family on Facetime and Zoom almost every shift. Sharing their messages – serving as their voices.”

How Outside Support Felt on the Front Lines

As COVID-19 numbers climbed, the team leaned on one another. In doing so, they grew. External support – from Avera teammates, friends and family and communities – made a difference.

“We had converted single-patient areas to accommodate two patients, and we were still overflowing, expanding the area that was considered COVID-19 ICU,” Erickson said. “Our team only grew and got better. The things we faced, we faced together, and the pain and losses – we faced those together, too.”

The gifts, messages and cards from people outside their unit reached RNs like Erickson, and they lifted their spirits in tough times.

Heading Into the Next Phase of Pandemic

While her unit is quieter than it was last fall, Erickson knows first-hand the reality of COVID-19.

“I want people to hear me when I say; it’s not over,” she said. “Things are getting better, but we still need precautions. Wear masks, wash your hands and keep social distance. Get vaccinated when you have the chance. We can push through this pandemic, but only if we do it with some wisdom and grace.”

Those preventive steps can help. Looking back on her first year, Erickson knows she was in some ways a “freshman” who was forced to start on the varsity team, but she knows her intense beginning is just a starting point.

“I am excited to continue my career with this team,” Erickson said. “We’re all going to keep learning. I know I have a long way to go and a lot more to learn.”

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