By: Lillian Lema, Staff Writer

From a young age, student Ashley Watters knew that she wanted to go into the nursing field. Growing up in a low income family, Watters witnessed the hardships her family faced with the lack of motivation and skill to advocate for their health concerns and therefore, not seek to improve it. She would try to inspire them to better their health, but her efforts weren’t enough as her family wasn’t passionate about changing their health habits. “It was important to me that people were doing the best for their health. I wanted to continue to do that, but with people coming to me for that help… with someone who actually wants it and who is willing to work at it,” the junior nursing student said. 

Watters has enjoyed hands on learning since grade school and has been passionate about improving people’s quality of life. During high school, she worked at the South Portland Nursing Home where she assisted elders with their everyday activities and meal prep. “I know how easy it is to improve someone’s quality of life just by telling them to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, or just by listening to them,” Watters said. 

Right before starting the nursing program at USM, Watters was anxious on how she would manage being, both, a full-time student and employee pursuing a demanding major. For a moment she doubted her capability and ability, but then remembered in her high school years the adult responsibilities she took on. “Just being a child with low social-economics, I was able to manage more on my plate than most people,” she said. Throughout high school, Watters worked at McDonald’s and the South Portland Nursing Home for about thirty to thirty-five hours a week. She would leave school and head straight to work. “If you don’t have to do something then, you’re less likely to do it…,” Watters said. “If I wanted to go to prom and buy a prom dress, go out to eat with friends, go on field trips, buy equipment for sports, or even dinner, I needed to go to work.”

Although her high school days are long and gone, her work ethic hasn’t changed at all. Watters’ works as a full-time phlebotomist for the American Red Cross and her weekly schedule is booked between school, studying, and work. Watters jokes that she uses her meal time to socialize with friends. “I tell them that if they want to see me then, they need to come over for dinner,” she said. However, during the COVID-19 breakout Watters has remained isolated and had to stop socializing with friends and loved ones.  

“During our health crisis as a nursing student, it feels like I am so close to being a helping hand, but it’s unfortunate that I can’t help right now,” she said.  Since the outbreak of COVID-19 Watters states that her workplace has become busier than ever and all her classes have been moved to online. According to Watters, “nursing students need clinical experience in order to graduate and the nursing faculty will be using a virtual simulation lab in lieu of-in person clinical experience. Our Associate Dean has experience with integration of virtual simulation and it even helped in achieving a 100% pass success rate for the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination),” she said.

Watters feels that she wasn’t prepared for the current pandemic as a nursing student at USM. She acknowledges that the school isn’t at complete fault because this country’s health care system and government didn’t do their job in preparing the public for the severity of this pandemic. “We should have taken more precaution right away… we as a nation reacted slowly to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases,” Watters said. “The health care system should be prepared long before if not equal to schools, but the government’s role in slowing the rate of those infected with COVID-19 hasn’t been strategic resulting in a more dense contraction of the virus in the U.S.” 

It is during times like these, that Watters and her classmates are proud and grateful for going into the nursing field. Last week, the nursing students had a virtual meeting where they were given more information on COVID-19. In the meeting, Watters and her classmates were encouraged to focus on their own health and well being, so that they can be ready to fight like warriors against health threats like COVID-19.

Watters advises everyone to stay isolated so that we can get through these tough times faster and protect one another. For those who work in “essential” jobs, she recommends taking precautions by hand washing for at least 20 seconds, covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and staying home if one has a temperature greater than 99.5º F. “I know there is a lot of worry for those who are less fortunate with their health, goods, and services, however, we can help by donating to nonprofits and by sharing information to the public,” Watters said. 

The current pandemic has caused drastic changes in society, which has been a beneficial learning experience for not only Watters and her classmates, but for everyone. Watters advises everyone to  To be comfortable with adaptation because change that can affect every aspect of a person’s life is inevitable. “If we get too comfortable… change can become so overwhelming that it can cripple us from achieving a functioning lifestyle. From a nursing standpoint it’s important to be ready for dramatic changes in our patient’s health status,” Watters said,” Watters said. 

Although Watters still has a year before she graduates she is excited for the next steps in her career field. She plans to go into the intensive care unit for a few years and then, focus on geriatrics. Also, she is considering going to graduate school to become a cardiac nurse or nurse anesthetist.

Looking back at her educational career and life, Watters acknowledges that it is her hard work ethic that has helped her get to where she is today. “I tell myself to go above and beyond because if we go above and beyond within every aspect of our daily lives then, the world would be a better place,” Watters said. “And, please don’t forget to smile, it’s a good kind of contagious.”


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