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'Making a difference': U of T Nursing students find inspiration in COVID-19 response

Srisudakhar Nowduri (left) and Sarah Jun (right) were inspired to pursue careers in nursing after volunteering alongside nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic (photos courtesy of Srisudakhar Nowduri and Sarah Jun)

As members of the newest cohort in the University of Toronto’s bachelor of science in nursing program at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of NursingSrisudakhar Nowduri and Sarah Jun are eager to gain a deeper understanding of the role nurses play across the health care spectrum – and to make a difference in the lives of others.

Nowduri and Jun both say they had an interest in the medical field for as long as they can remember, but hadn’t considered a career in nursing until the COVID-19 pandemic opened their eyes to the possibilities of what nurses could do.

“I had a very stereotypical idea of what nurses did – I mostly thought they were assistants at the bedside,” says Nowduri, who recently graduated with a bachelor of science in biochemistry and human biology from U of T Scarborough.

During the early months of 2020, Nowduri, who often volunteered at local clinics, began working as a health screener at Baycrest Health Sciences’ geriatric facility. Some of his main tasks involved checking visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, including taking people’s temperatures and handing out masks.

As the pandemic worsened Nowduri says he quickly became aware of the complex and varied nature of a nurse’s role – particularly as a leader. 

“The more I learned about the opportunities for specialization as a nurse and the variations in their roles, the more attractive the field of nursing became to me,” says Nowduri.

Working closely with nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed Nowduri to reflect on the hardships associated with the profession. He could see how understaffed the nursing teams were, the length of the shifts they worked and the mental and physical toil they had to endure. Yet, coming face-to-face with nursing’s reality hasn’t deterred Nowduri from pursuing it is as career – if anything, it has motivated him even more.

“I’m wary of the challenges and I know nursing is going to be tough,” he says. “But it is also meaningful and, at the end of the day, that is what people look for in their work: to make a difference.”

Jun is also eager to make a difference as a nurse. Having lost both of her grandparents to terminal illnesses, Jung remembers her family’s positive experience with the nurses who cared for them and the impact of their compassion. So, when COVID-19 arrived, the McMaster University graduate didn’t want to wait on the sidelines for things to get better. She took on a volunteer role at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic – a decision she says sparked her passion for nursing.

“I was lucky enough to speak to a variety of nurses working at the clinic and hear about their experiences, including the career paths they have taken,” says Jun. “Nursing is so versatile and with a pandemic going on, it was inspiring to see everyone rise from their position and come together to battle COVID-19.”

Though she wasn’t administering needles, Jung was actively involved in helping clinic visitors as they arrived to get their shots. That included checking them in and providing reassurance to those who seemed nervous in line.

“In a small way, I felt I was doing something to help society get back to normal. It is why I am even more determined now in the middle of a pandemic to pursue a degree in nursing despite the challenges,” Jun says.

Jun and Nowduri say choosing to study at U of T Nursing was an easy decision because of its reputation as the number one nursing school in Canada, and because of the unique clinical placements students are able to take part in at some of Canada’s leading hospitals.

“Coming from the life sciences, everything was very theoretical,” says Jun. “I’m excited about this new learning process and being able to apply nursing knowledge into practice while engaging with new people and nurses as part of a team. The possibilities just seem endless to me right now.”

At the geriatric facility where he first started to learn about the nursing profession, Nowduri still works part-time and now supervises health screeners on the job. Though he is just beginning his education in nursing, Nowduri says he can see himself practising as a nurse practitioner (a master’s- or doctoral-prepared nurse) in rural or underserved communities, though he would consider working in acute care to be just as meaningful.

“I’m looking forward to finding out what I don’t know about nursing yet,” says Nowduri, “and to making a difference in a patient’s life, while learning alongside like-minded people.”

For Jun, being a good student, participating in extracurricular activities and getting to know her peers are just a few of the things she is looking forward to as she starts her nursing program.

“I want to try everything,” Jun says. “I know that makes me sound indecisive, but I think experiencing everything is the best way to learn. I can’t wait.”