We Dare to rise to the challenge

We Dare header with Mitchell Keefer photo

For the U-M School of Nursing Class of 2020, years of hard work won’t culminate in the traditional celebrations they expected — at least not for now. They’ve successfully completed a rigorous program amid unprecedented circumstances, preparing to start their careers at a time when their knowledge and skills are needed more than ever.

As students submitted their last assignments and prepared for final exams, many of them were also working in clinical settings as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to overwhelm the country’s health care system.

The Class of 2020 will always be remembered for when they entered the field and the circumstances surrounding their graduation, but the important work they do in the years to come will help reinvent health care and heal the world.

Some of these new Michigan nurses took the time to share their perspectives on clinical learning in a time of uncertainty, rising to the challenges of a global health crisis and their plans for the future.

Olivia Livernois

Olivia Livernois photo

Aside from working to finish my degree, I’m also an employee at Michigan Medicine, where I have been working throughout the pandemic as a nursing tech on 4A, a neuro-stroke unit. Our unit has been designated as “COVID-free,” but we have still treated and tested several COVID-19 patients.

At first, I felt frightened, anxious and stressed. I wasn’t sure what the pandemic would bring and how our patient population would change, but my 4A team is truly one of a kind. Without them, I could not make it through this stressful time. Although we are not an ICU or a designated COVID-19 unit, there have still been instances of exposure. That invokes a sense of anxiety for sure, but with the support, love and encouragement of my 4A team, I know we will get through this.

Above all, this experience has taught me that when you are equipped with a positive, loving, supportive and encouraging work family, you can really accomplish anything. As a team, we consistently put the needs of our patients first while maintaining our own protection as well. Of course, fear and anxiety exist, but we are truly all in this together. Michigan Medicine is lucky to be equipped with proper PPE, resources and staff to get through this pandemic. I feel so incredibly grateful to work at this institution and work among true health care heroes. This is a really scary time for everyone, and I just feel blessed to have constant support in all areas of my life.

It has been incredibly heartwarming to witness the outpouring of love, support and encouragement nationwide and within our U-M School of Nursing community. During this time, I think the most helpful advice I have received from many people — health care professionals, faculty, family and friends — is that you cannot take care of others unless you have taken care of yourself. Throughout nursing school, I have heard this phrase from many of my mentors, but I think it resonates most with this pandemic. As health care professionals, we took an oath to care for our patients, but we cannot put our best self on the front lines if we are not healthy or taken care of. It is essential, now more than ever, that we take care of ourselves, too — not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We are human, too, and oftentimes what we endure during our 12-hour shifts requires superhuman strength.

After graduating, I hope to work at Michigan Medicine on the 4A unit. I have a passion for pediatrics, but I thoroughly enjoy my time with my coworkers and would love to be precepted on a unit where I feel comfortable and supported. After one year of floor nursing, I hope to begin the Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan.

Mitchell Keefer

Mitchell Keefer photoI was completing my senior critical care clinical work on the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and currently work as certified nurse assistant at a local subacute rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Ann Arbor. Since classes and clinicals have been canceled, I have stayed in my Ann Arbor apartment to be close to the hospital if they need more staff during the pandemic and to isolate from my family in Superior Township since I have contact with COVID-positive patients at my job.

I was actually notified that our clinicals were canceled while I was on site at the Mott Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It was extremely sad to say goodbye to my mentors on the unit so prematurely. Every day, I crave being engaged in clinical work the way things were before. The PICU was such a perfect combination of opportunities for personal and professional growth, coupled with excitement and challenge. To be without it leaves me with a void I just can’t fill at work or home.

I’ve been trying my best to stay in touch with my family and make sure they are staying safe and feel connected. A shortage of PPE at my job has been challenging to navigate as COVID-positive cases continue to grow. Some staff have quit for fear of becoming infected. It breaks my heart to see the patients, who have no other choice but to remain there, suffering from understaffing. We have an obligation to help the sick — that’s why we’re in this profession.

During COVID-19, I take the most comfort in the affirmation that I’ve chosen the right career. The longing I have to be more involved in the relief for these patients and the hunger for a challenge gives me the confidence to know I’m ready to get out there and do my part to bring some good into this world.

One of my patients awaiting his COVID-19 test results at work said that my sense of humor was the highlight of his day. He told me that he was afraid he would die alone. More than just competent nursing care, sharing a human connection with someone while he was scared and isolated helped him deal with the uncertainties. We were vulnerable together as two human beings, not nursing staff and patient. I think we both felt stronger for it in the end.

After graduation, I hope to return to the Mott PICU as a registered nurse to reclaim those incredible experiences I missed out on because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team of nurses there is inspiring in their expertise and skill, and I would be humbled and honored to walk among them.

Naomi Nichols

Naomi Nichols photo

I had my leadership clinical work in the Pediatric Cardiothoracic Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and my community clinical work at Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels and a local Head Start program. I also work on a general care floor at Mott.

I think describing my experience as stressful would be an understatement. There were a lot of changes happening quickly, but there was also a lot of uncertainty about almost everything. Seeing the effects of a pandemic from the standpoint of a leadership and community health student and health care worker was both eye-opening and a little scary, because things were changing so quickly.

I’ve learned that I’m more resilient than I thought. These experiences cemented the idea that nursing is the right profession for me, and they’ve made me even more excited about my future as a nurse! After graduation, it is my hope that I can find a job in a pediatric or neonatal intensive care unit.



Warren DeLong

Warren DeLong photo

I had my clinical rotation in the Critical Care Medicine Unit up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was a privilege to gain valuable experience on the CCMU caring for many of the sickest patients at Michigan Medicine. The experience was challenging, because I was exposed to equipment and technology I had never seen before, such as continuous renal replacement therapy, ventilators, arterial lines and more. I hope to gain more experience working in critical care after graduation and would love to serve aboard one of the U.S. Navy hospital ships someday.





Athena Lievense

Athena Lievense photo

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I volunteered to work on Michigan Medicine’s Regional Infectious Containment Unit as a patient care technician to care for patients infected with COVID-19.

I have never felt more proud to be part of the Michigan Nursing community — the strength and resilience I have seen grow during this pandemic is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

So many of the people affected by COVID-19 have become very sick, and it is eerie to know that every one of them was struck by the same cause. The camaraderie of the staff has given everyone strength.

Going into nursing is more important than ever before. With so much uncertainty in the world, nurses and nursing students have been recognized as leaders and the rocks of the nation.

I am currently applying to several nursing jobs in the Ann Arbor area. Eventually, I would like to go back to school to earn my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Claire Vogel

Claire Vogel photo

I’m working as a tech at Michigan Medicine in 6C, a pulmonary and general medicine unit, and I volunteered for the Regional Infectious Containment Unit when it opened. I’m glad I can do both, and 6C is kind of my rock.

Honestly, I’m very grateful to be working here during this time. This represents an enormous learning opportunity, despite the suboptimal circumstances, and I feel lucky to have a role.

The ICU and the general care floors are very different. On the floors, there's more downtime, more time to speculate about the unknown future and freak out a little bit — How are we doing? Where are we at? Is it going to get worse? Is it getting better? The ICUs, by contrast, are very busy. I can't speak to the experience of the nurses, but it seems like much more physically and mentally exhausting work, and it leaves little room for continuous rumination. Those patients are very sick.

My personal experience in the ICU was ... wow. Everything is being done for these patients, absolutely everything, and sometimes it's still not enough. I am recognizing the frailty of our most significant medical advancements in a new way, but not in a despairing way. I don't think we place our hope in the machines, per se, but in what the professionals can do, and the resilience of the patients themselves.

I'm not in this to be a hero. All the applause makes me a little uncomfortable, but I have been amazed every day by my coworkers, and I so want to emulate them in my own practice. The advice I’ve heard a lot is just … one day at a time.

After graduation, I just want to work as a nurse! I'm hoping to find a spot on a telemetry or stepdown unit and finally get in practice — it feels overdue!