By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service
Montana State University bachelor’s nursing student Connor Meron is combining his nursing education with his service as a member of the Montana Army National Guard to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meron, who is a student at the MSU College of Nursing’s Billings campus, volunteered this fall to spend two weeks working in the infirmary at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. His shifts there lasted 14 hours each – 12 hours of work plus an approximately hour-long drive each morning and evening. There were no days off; by the end of his two-week deployment from Oct. 25 through Nov. 9, he worked 210 hours.
“Being a part of this has been great,” Meron said. “I learned that I am capable of achieving a lot more than I thought being here and doing school simultaneously. It’s nice to know our work here has made a difference and that we have helped out others. Not everyone had a choice in going on this mission, but I wanted to come to be a part of something bigger and make a difference.”
Meron began each day at 4 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. During each shift, he helped nurses test inmates for COVID-19, and he also monitored the systems of inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 to track the progress of the disease.
“There are close to 1,600 inmates, so it keeps us busy,” he said. “The inmates with COVID that are really sick and staying inside the infirmary I help with basic care, such as taking vital signs, blood sugars, passing out meals and cleaning.”
When he got back each night to the hotel in Butte where the group was staying, Meron worked on homework until about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., he said, noting that his professors were “awesome” and accommodating of his unusual schedule. Then, he tried to get as much sleep as possible.
The days were long and tiring, but Meron said was motivated – both as a future nurse and as a member of the National Guard – by a desire to help others.
“As leaders, we are expected to care for the needs of our soldiers before we care for our own needs, and I feel that carries over to nursing, and a lot of nurses can relate to that,” he said.
A desire to attend to others’ needs helped lead Meron to nursing in the first place. Meron said he has always liked the medical field and took an EMT course in high school. He chose to pursue nursing because he enjoys “making a difference for people who are hurting.”
Meron, who is originally from Billings, joined the Montana Army National Guard in 2016 while he was a high school student. Then, in the spring of 2018, he joined the MSU Army ROTC.
“I knew that as a leader I could make a difference,” he said. “I have loved ROTC; I have learned a lot and have been able to teach a lot of cadets below me.”
Meron, who is a junior in the MSU College of Nursing, has also appreciated his nursing education.
“It has been challenging, but I have learned and participated in so many different things at the hospitals,” he said. “It has been really fun, and I am excited for my next two semesters.”
Teresa Wicks, assistant teaching professor at the College of Nursing’s Billings campus, said nursing is a robust undergraduate program that is regarded as both science and art.
“We ask students to integrate many skills sets in the journey to become a Bobcat nurse,” she said. “Connor is in class, attentive and preparing himself to serve both his country and his future patients. He is professional in his demeanor.”
Wicks added that when Meron knew he was being deployed recently, he called her promptly to make arrangements to continue his course work.
“He wants to make sure he can be successful in this semester,” she said, adding that his clinical instructor notes that Meron is “professional, attentive to his patients and demonstrates the desire to be a good nurse by incorporating feedback from his faculty instructors to improve his clinical performance.”
Similarly, Cahle Clampitt with MSU ROTC in Billings said Meron is an asset to the program.
“Within the program Cadet Meron assists with planning training events and operations,” Clampitt said. “After Cadet Meron completes his nursing degree, he will become an officer in the Montana National Guard. Cadet Meron is a great mentor for the other cadets and highly motivated. The ROTC program is lucky to have Cadet Meron, and the (Montana Army National Guard) is fortunate to have him as a future officer.”
After Meron completes ROTC and graduates from MSU, he will be in the Montana Army National Guard for a minimum of eight years – but he said he would like to stay longer.
And, after graduation from MSU, Meron would like to work as a nurse, either in psychiatric nursing or emergency medicine.
“Both are very high-paced and always present different challenges,” he said.
He credits the support of others with helping him work toward his goals and be successful.
“I wouldn’t be where I am at today without the support I have gotten from my family and friends, as well as the exceptional officers and (non-commissioned officers) who have worked with me and taught me so much,” he said.
This story is available on the web at: http://www.montana.edu/news/20609