Tar Heel finds her calling as a nurse

Amanda Atkins' final year at Carolina was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but after graduating, she quickly launched into a career as a nurse as hospitals coped with the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic upended Amanda Atkins’ final year at UNC-Chapel Hill, the demand for the knowledge and skills she was learning at Carolina became even more urgent.

Atkins earned her degree from the UNC School of Nursing in May 2020 and quickly became a frontline health care worker as hospitals coped with the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the University gets ready to celebrate the Class of 2020 this week, we talked to Atkins, who is a registered nurse at Duke University Hospital in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, to learn more about how she’s leaving her heelprint in her profession and how Carolina prepared her to begin a nursing career during a pandemic.

How did your time at Carolina prepare you to start a nursing career in the middle of a pandemic?

I firmly believe that I wouldn’t have been able to take on such a challenge without the support I received from so many of my professors and clinical faculty. I distinctly recall how so many of them went out of their way to ensure that we were getting the most out of our virtual education, no matter how different that looked. Many of them may never know the lasting impression they left on me and how they shaped me to be the nurse I am today. Because let me tell you, the assertive, confident, independent nurse that stands before you exists solely because of those who constantly encouraged me to take on new challenges, step outside of my comfort zone and push myself to be better.

What was the transition like going from a nursing student to a health care worker during a pandemic?

I know that none of us could have predicted that our last few months at Carolina would have gone the way they did. I certainly felt ambivalent about the way nursing school ended for me, and for someone who is very much a hands-on learner, I was worried that I would graduate feeling unprepared to enter the world of nursing, not to mention take on this new role amidst a pandemic. While immensely challenging, the transition from a nursing student to an independently functioning nurse felt very instinctual. And despite the not-so-normal path I took to get there, I felt ready to take on whatever was about to be thrown at me. 

What do you enjoy most about your new career?

I love how versatile nursing is. The number of different directions you can take your career in seems endless and was one of the reasons I was so drawn to the profession. You’d be hard-pressed to find something out there more flexible than nursing. It’s a special feeling to work in a profession that is so well respected, not to mention known for being the most trusted. I wanted to find myself doing something where years from now, I could look back on my life and feel as though I had a meaningful career. And for me, nursing has already done that and so much more.

There’s this “calling” that many nurses say brought them to the profession. And I never fully understood what that meant until I began to experience it myself. And now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

What do you miss most about Carolina?

I always felt so welcomed by the community at Carolina. And with being a nontraditional second-degree student who lived the commuter life, I was fearful that on a large university campus, I would feel like more of a number or a body rather than a person with a name and an identity. But thanks to the support I always felt I had from the School of Nursing and Carolina as a whole, my presence on campus always felt as though it had a purpose. I will forever be grateful for my Carolina nursing education and thankful to have had the opportunity to be taught by some of the best and brightest in their field. Because of them, my hunger for knowledge lives on, and I’m eager to see where my nursing career takes me next. I am so unbelievably proud to call myself a Carolina alumna.