Pandemic taking toll on San Diego's healthcare workforce

Posted at 8:39 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 00:26:34-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the healthcare workforce, while at the same time motivating others to join.

"I’ve had nurses who’ve definitely retired sooner. I’ve had friends who are still working, but maybe they’ve shifted to part-time," said Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi, President-elect of the San Diego County Medical Society.

Ajayi has been on the frontlines from the beginning of the pandemic. She's currently working 18 days straight due to staffing shortages.

"I’m in the trenches with them, and you just see how grueling it is, and you see just how much of a toll it takes," said Ajayi.

In addition to working long hours, Ajayi said the lack of trust between patients and medical staff makes the job challenging and takes away the joy of doing medicine.

"I’ve had patients who with their dying breath tell you they don’t have COVID and will cough on myself, my nurses because they don’t believe it’s real," she said.

But Ajayi said some medical students and young physicians like herself remain eager to help.

Dr. Kathy Marsh, Associate Dean at the University of San Diego Hahn School of Nursing, said they've seen a record number of enrollment into their master's entry program over the past two years.

"I think with the highlight on nursing, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, it prompted people to think of nursing as a career and profession," Marsh said.

Richard Leung joined the program in August of 2020.

"It’s been a great experience so far... very different type of learning I would say, but very fast pace," Leung said.

Leung said the pandemic has only made him even more motivated to finish the program faster.

"Personally, it made me more excited and really made me realize what the impact of a nurse can be and what we can do in the community," he said.

However, like Ajayi, Marsh said COVID-19 misinformation and politics have only made the work nurses and students do more difficult.

"It’s hard to go day in and day out, being head to toe in PPE, taking care of patients, and knowing that those people just don’t believe in vaccines," said Marsh. "Something that could really help decrease the pandemic and flatten the curve."

There's a total of 445 students in the USD Hahn School of Nursing, which includes nurses who are going back to school for a graduate degree, NP or Ph.D.

There are 83 students in the pre-licensure program.