After graduating from nursing school at Howard University, Jasmine Greene had no idea that less than one year later, she’d be working in the midst of a health pandemic.
“This isn’t something anyone could have anticipated,” she said.
Once a staff nurse at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington and Children’s National in the District and now a general pediatric nurse at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, the Maryland native became a travel nurse in December 2021.
A sizable increase in pay served as the impetus for the change as she discovered that the DMV’s cost of living had become overwhelming. But she also saw that working as a travel nurse also lined up more closely with her career goals.
“When I left my last job I was trying to keep up with the things that I wanted to do by picking up overtime shifts,” she said. “As a travel nurse, I was doing similar work but making more money for less hours.”
Her agency provides stipends for housing and meals as well as a better hourly rate.
Still, she often worries about COVID-19.
“Of course you want to do what you can to protect your own mental and physical health and want to spend time with your family,” she said. “But seeing the rise in cases is disheartening because you feel so vulnerable.”
“It is of course a very difficult job but to hear people’s stories and to see people recover is really such a rewarding thing and to be a part of that in any way, shape, or form it’s just a beautiful thing to bear witness to,” said Greene who typically works 12-hour shifts.
As a travel nurse under contract with the University of Maryland at St. Joseph Medical Center, Clairmont Griffith has witnessed the pandemic unfold from the beginning.
“It seems like we never have enough nurses and it’s so important now,” Griffith said.
While the procedures for operating through COVID-19 have somewhat relaxed, Griffith said the early days proved hectic. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Griffith recalls seeing mostly older patients pouring into the emergency room and being hospitalized. Now, he said the patient demographics have grown more diverse.
“COVID does not discriminate,” he said. “It can be anybody and they come at any time.”
Originally from England with roots in South America, Guyana and Trinidad, Griffith has transitioned career fields in his 62 years of life. Originally starting off in engineering, he entered the medical profession and has been a nurse for over 20 years.
“For me, the one thing that I’ve always enjoyed was helping people and the look on their faces when someone takes a little time to help them,” he said. “You’ve got to give of yourself to help folks who come to you for help because they’re in pain.”
The urgent need for nurses across the country has sparked a long-needed conversation over burnout in the medical community. Working lengthy hours while witnessing and experiencing some of the harshest realities of this pandemic has driven experienced nurses out of their once chosen careers.
Having a support system remains essential, Griffith explained. And having a life or hobbies outside of the hospital also help.
“If you are able to, talk and open up. It’s all right to cry sometimes. It releases a lot of endorphins [and] it does a lot of things for you. I know for men it’s often seen as a sign of weakness. But for me, I don’t care about that stuff.”
“One good thing I’ve learned from the hospital, and they make a point of saying it, is we are never alone. We are not doing this on our own. You’ve got people to help you,” Griffith said.