The COVID-19 pandemic has made this a challenging time for nurses, but especially so for nurses like Saba Kazani, who are at the beginning of their nursing careers.

In February 2020, Saba was offered a position as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare West. That March, HCA Houston Healthcare received its first COVID-19 positive inpatient for treatment. In just a few months, Saba had seen and experienced more than most nurses have in their entire career.

“It was a really weird time to start nursing, but the beauty of it was that we didn’t know any different,” she says.

Saba and other newly graduated nurses were in a unique position when they started their first 12-hour hospital shift. They were able to see how the nursing profession they chose responded to a crisis and how they would need to pivot in order to navigate through a pandemic.

As an ICU nurse, Saba has become accustomed to high-pressure scenarios and has even learned how to help her colleagues through difficult situations. She has seen some dark days, but her experiences have shown her that she is like a diamond—resilient and built under pressure.

In her own words, “I love being uncomfortable. There’s no growth in the comfort zone.”

A Calling to a New Profession

Saba started her professional career as a dental hygienist in Canada, her home country, and moved to the United States in 2015. She was surprised to learn that her hygienist license would not transfer and she would have to start over.

“I went through a crisis period where I just didn’t know what to do,” says Saba. “I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have anything,’ as far as a degree is concerned, but I decided to do nursing because I wanted to stay in healthcare. I liked working with people. I didn’t think too much beyond that, but once I did get into nursing school and I started practicing, I knew this was the right move for me.”

She enrolled in Texas Woman’s University’s (TWU) nursing program and learned the art of patient care. During one of her last semesters at TWU, she attended a career fair where she was introduced to HCA Houston Healthcare’s nurse residency program, Specialty Training Apprenticeship for Registered Nurses (StaRN).

The program is a unique and intense apprenticeship opportunity created to meet a critical need for specialty nurses. It is innovatively designed to bridge the gap between nursing school and launching your career.

“It actually was a good experience,” says Saba. “I’m glad there was a residency program for me because it really helped me feel more comfortable when I started working solo. There are a lot of things you have to learn on the job that you may not have known in school, especially when you go straight to the ICU. So I was pretty grateful for the program. I felt supported.”

At the end of the program, nursing graduates are offered a full-time position at an HCA Houston Healthcare hospital. Saba was offered a position in the ICU.

“Initially, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in the ICU. My first choice was going to be the ER, but when I got the acceptance letter for the ICU, I just thought ‘Maybe it’s meant to be.’ And immediately I knew that it was the right choice for me. It was complex enough where I felt like I’d constantly be learning multiple things every day, but also just the right amount of organization.”

The program offers each nurse the opportunity to work alongside a current hospital nurse who can provide peer-to-peer support and guidance for the new nurse graduate. Due to COVID-19, Saba had multiple preceptors who she says she was grateful for because she learned something different from each of them.

“My favorite part about nursing is, sometimes when you do something you were never able to do before, or that you had trouble with before, and you just take a step back and go, ‘Wow, I wasn’t able to do this…a couple of months ago and look where I am now,’” she says. “It gives me a really strong sense of self-accomplishment and it makes me feel great about myself when I can learn so many new things, every single day, things that I never thought I could do before.”

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