Graduate gains firsthand experience as a nurse

In just weeks, Kelly Toner graduated college and started her career as pandemic worsened

In just a few weeks, Kelly Toner transitioned from nursing student to nurse associate caring for COVID-19 patients.

Now she’s been able to enjoy a moment of celebration as a Rutgers-Camden nursing graduate who became a front-line worker at Cooper University Hospital as the pandemic worsened.

“As a nursing student, you do a ton of clinicals (tactical learning and use of practices), and I have been so lucky to be in the ICU and in critical care; it was where I wanted to be,” Toner shared.

“It solidified where I want to be with these patients who are sick and I want to be there for them. It makes me ready and I can see what’s in my future.”

Toner’s original college plans were undecided, but knew her calling was to help people, be active and create lasting relationships with everyone she meets.

The nursing curriculum brought challenges Toner admitted she had to power through. But the program, which had been new to the Camden campus (it is offered at the flagship New Brunswick campus) when she attended, helped Toner become a stronger student and nurse.

“I enjoyed it every step of the way and recommend it anytime anyone asks me,” she noted.

At Cooper, Toner worked as a nurse associate tending to COVID-19 patients. She recalled the ordeal as tense and scary as medical professionals made daily strides against the pandemic but also had to attend to the deceased.

“You make this difficult time better by working with people who you enjoy working with and it builds a strong unit,” Toner explained. “It’s scary, but you get through it together and that’s so important.”

But the grim reality of the virus’ toll helped her learn what “nursing resiliency” and the profession are about. Other nurses and associates accompanied Toner during her shifts, providing her a way to bond with others over shared experiences.

But Toner also cited other hospital employees: doctors, anesthesiologists, nutritionists, occupational therapists, janitors and cooks.

“There are so many more people who help make a hospital function smoothly,” she said. “I’ve always been appreciative of people who work in a hospital because I’m there. It’s definitely been an experience, and I hope that everyone else realizes how many more people are involved on the COVID-19 floor than just nurses and doctors.”

As summer sets in, Toner aspires to take on new challenges by becoming a critical care nurse.

“It’s been a challenge going in as my first year of being a real nurse,” she admitted. “It will be a good challenge.

“I’m here to learn and expand my knowledge on everything, and I’m excited.”