Nursing alumna Natalie Erbes (BS '20)

Newly minted registered nurse Natalie Erbes (BS ’20) usually lives with her 82-year-old grandmother in Chicago. But back in March, Erbes had her first coronavirus-positive patient. Since then, her grandmother has been staying with Erbes’s parents in Crystal Lake, and Erbes has been living alone as she goes to work on the front lines of the pandemic.

“I think that’s the biggest challenge,” she said. “You don’t want to infect anybody else, especially if any of your family members are high risk.”

Despite the obstacles, Erbes says she felt ready to start her career as a registered nurse thanks to her training in the Roosevelt bachelor’s in nursing program.

“There’s a couple of us working from my class and we all feel the same amount of preparedness,” Erbes said. “I think they really set us up for success.”

Learn more about the BSN degree at Roosevelt University.

Becoming a nurse in a global health crisis

Erbes works in the cardiology unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The coronavirus can be especially devastating for the patients Erbes sees, who are already dealing with cardiovascular problems.

According to doctors at the hospital, patients who have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease are more likely to need a ventilator. That escalates the pressure to be as careful as possible to prevent the transmission of disease.

Other high-risk patients, afraid of exposure to COVID-19, have avoided going to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms. This could escalate the urgency of her team’s interventions.

Erbes was an intern with her current team when the pandemic began. Those extra months of experience have made her feel more comfortable getting started in her full-time role.

“It felt like a really long orientation process,” she said of her internship. “I saw the changes already that the hospital was making. So I knew what to expect before actually going in.”

At RMUI, the small class sizes and close relationships helped Erbes feel connected and stay accountable in her classes. During the accelerated program, she took classes all year round, and felt prepared to dive right into a full-time schedule.

Erbes’s preparation hasn’t gone unnoticed. When Northwestern Memorial Hospital was going through the process of recertification for its magnet status, Erbes’s charge nurse recommended her to sit in on the meeting due to her accomplishments throughout orientation.

On the day shift

Natalie Erbes’s day begins at 5:45 a.m. She completes a self-assessment form on her phone to confirm she’s symptom-free, and makes her way through the designated staff entrance for a temperature check.

Erbes receives a new mask, which she then wears for her whole 12-hour shift. Her shift started in the report room, getting organized and huddling with the team for a rundown on what happened the shift before.

Throughout a shift, she checks in on her patients, attending to their pain, monitoring urgent situations, giving medications and transporting patients to procedures. She works closely with the health care team of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants on each patient plan.

The cardiology unit is in a spacious, renovated wing of the hospital. As more coronavirus patients came seeking treatment, the ICU took over the 51-bed unit and the cardiology team relocated to another, smaller space. The new layout created new difficulties as the nurses strove to social distance, but the team worked out a routine to keep their patients safe.

When she can’t spend time with her family, Erbes is grateful she can turn to her boyfriend (a current nursing student) and her new unit for support.

She advises current nursing students is to shadow other nurses before taking on the role themselves. “You’re not going to learn everything walking out of nursing school, but you’ll learn something new every day,” she said. “Just keep on learning. Everyone is there to help and teach you.”

About the Roosevelt nursing program

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Roosevelt University will prepare students for professional careers in the health care field as Registered Nurses (RNs). Nursing courses start during the first semester in the direct-admit program. Students receive real-world experience through our clinical affiliations with area hospitals.Learn more about the program.