Symphany Roche, left, and Josselyn Castro, right, are graduating today from the Eastern Suffolk BOCES licensed practical nursing program. Kirsti Dixon, center, is a teacher who helped the students complete their studies.
Covid-19 has cast a long shadow over the health care industry, and there’s a sense of trepidation and anxiety among the 65 practical nurses who are graduating today from their Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services program. But there’s also a sense of hope and purpose among the graduates, and knowledge that they’re going to learn even more — and fast — when they dig into their work.
Josselyn Castro and Symphany Roche agree on all of that because, they say, it’s in the nature of people who go into nursing to help where help is needed.
“Everyone’s nervous,” said Ms. Castro, 27. She is a 2011 Southampton High School graduate who now lives in Hampton Bays, and will go on to study in a registered nurse program. “We all really want to get out there and help as much as we can, but it’s going to be a weird way of starting a career. We’re just going to be thrown in to do as much as we can.”
The new graduates have yet to take their “boards,” the state exam that caps off their education and officially deems them licensed practical nurses. Because of Covid-19, New York State is allowing them to work for up to 180 days without taking the exam.
Licensed practical nurses perform “tasks and responsibilities that include administering medication and treatment within the framework of case findings, health teaching, health counseling, and provision and restorative care under the direction of a physician, dentist, or registered nurse,” according to Eastern Suffolk BOCES. They study anatomy and physiology, growth and development, ethics, nutrition, pharmacology, and fundamental skills, and they get an introduction to specialties such as geriatrics and pediatrics.
“Their scope of practice is a little bit different from that of a registered nurse, but it’s very similar,” said Eleanore Uneberg, the practical nursing program’s teacher coordinator. “They have to learn the same things. . . . A disease is a disease.”
But it will be a rather unceremonious start to their next chapter because the actual graduation ceremony, which had been slated for tonight, has been postponed to an unknown date, possibly in August. It broke Ms. Roche’s heart.
“I was very much looking forward to that,” she said. “It’s closure to everything we’ve gone through together as a class, so we won’t be able to experience that as of now. There’s nothing to look forward to at the end of all you’ve accomplished — the ups and downs, and the good and the bad.”
Ms. Roche lives in Westhampton Beach and has two children. Like Ms. Castro, she also plans to enter a registered nurse program, but she wants to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic allows for in-person classes once again. The L.P.N. class had to finish their studies remotely, which Ms. Roche and Ms. Castro said was even more work than they were originally taking on.
Many of the graduates have jobs lined up already. Ms. Castro and Ms. Roche were already working in the health care field, Ms. Castro at Hampton Pediatrics for the last seven years and Ms. Roche at two regional nursing homes and an East Hampton drug rehabilitation facility. Ms. Roche, 29, is a certified nursing assistant, having earned that role upon her graduation from another BOCES nursing program, and Riverhead High School, in 2008.
Ms. Roche said the atmosphere at work these days is troubling, given the presence of a virus that has had a devastating impact, in general, on senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions.
“To work with that every day is a new experience for me,” she said. “I’ve never witnessed such sorrow. I don’t know how to put it into terms. . . . I’m happy, I’m glad to walk into work, I’m happy to see my residents, but now it’s also sad.”
The 65 graduates, most of them women, are well-prepared, skilled, and dedicated, according to Ms. Uneberg. “They kept their grades up and did what they had to do,” she said.
Dolly Kranz, the Eastern Suffolk BOCES program administrator for health science and adult education, agreed. “We are so happy and, I say, blessed to have a next generation of nurses coming through that maybe we had a little something to do with getting them on their feet,” she said. “They will only grow and blossom. That is our hope and joy and wish, that they are super successful. It really touches our hearts and our minds to know that we are putting this profession in really good hands.”
The program takes either 18 months part time or 11 months full time, and includes 1,260 hours of instruction and clinical work. It moved online in a hurry, Ms. Uneberg said, when the state closed schools because of Covid-19. The instructors “rose to the occasion and they did a great job,” she said.
Ms. Castro and Ms. Roche also said the teachers were excellent. “I had my good days and bad days, but there are certain teachers who picked me up and helped me get through it,” Ms. Roche said. “They were there for me through anything I had a problem with.”
Ms. Castro knows there will be challenges ahead.
“I don’t think you could ever be prepared,” she said. “There could be so many things that go on, but you learn.”
She said the fresh group of L.P.N. graduates will “be very helpful. A lot of the nurses out in the field will have some sort of relief. Although they would have to train us in a sense, and accustom us to however it would be, it’s a great thing we are able to graduate and go out into the field.”