TriHealth Nurses Reflect on the Past Year

Becky Stephenson, Karla McClain, and Beth Tonyan wearing masks and standing distanced apart at the side of Harris Hall.

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Becky Stephenson, L.P.N., Karla McClain, N.P. and Beth Tonyan, N.P. are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The women, all TriHealth employees who work in Miami’s student health services, recently reflected on the experiences of the past year, beginning back in March 2020 when Miami announced their decision to go remote. 

In the Beginning

Becky StephensonBecky Stepheson, L.P.N.“On a personal level, it was kind of like everyone else,” said Stephenson, who has been with Miami for about a year and a half. “We were all like ‘What is this? Is this real?’ for the first several months.”

The student health clinic, like most of the country, went from bustling and busy to nearly empty in just a few days. “It was weird. It was eerie. To drive into town and not even see another car on the road… it was almost creepy,” continued Stephenson.

Tonyan admitted she wasn’t sure how seriously she should take the pandemic in the beginning. “I thought ‘We’ll be fine. This is just like the flu. It will run its course.’ Then people started getting furloughed and we saw the number of cases rising, the number of deaths rising… It hit me that this is real life. This is what we need to do.”


Karla McClain, N.P.Karla McClain, N.P.The TriHealth staff had to evolve quickly throughout the summer and into the fall as they prepared to begin COVID-19 testing and considered how the pandemic would impact other types of services. 

At that time, changes were coming fast and the staff were regularly adjusting their practice and learning new things about the virus. 

“We were learning constantly, getting better every day,” said Stephenson. “From one week to the next, we were doing something a little different. We had to know changes as they were happening, because patients had a lot of questions.” 

McClain, a primary mental health nurse practitioner, noted how COVID increased issues in mental health concerns across the board. “I’ve seen a lot more anxiety in students. Of course it’s always a huge adjustment for new students who are coming to college, but with COVID, we’ve seen more disordered eating, more depression, more anxiety, social anxiety, and students struggling with remote learning.”

Fall Semester

Beth Tonyan, L.P.N.Beth Tonyan, L.P.N.Within the first few weeks of the delayed fall semester, Miami was seeing an increased number of COVID cases among students. By mid-October, staff were getting triple booked in the clinic. “The numbers kept going up and up and up,” said Tonyan. “There were so many cases.”

With students back on campus, Tonyan was designated as one of the providers going door-to-door to check on patients in isolation halls, sharing the duty with one other staff member. “There were typically 20 to 30 patients,” said Tonyan. “But there was one day when I had to check on 98 patients in their rooms.”

McClain was one of the nurses assigned to move-in testing at the Millett parking lot in the fall, and has also gone door-to-door in residence halls, testing students under a remain-in-room plan for COVID-19. Overall, students have been gracious and willing participants. “When I’ve gone door to door, they’ve referred to me by name, thanked us for doing it. They’ve even offered to help lug around our equipment,” she said. “You’ve got a thoughtful, resilient group of students here. And it just makes it all the easier to do the job.”

Stephenson noticed how engaged students have been in asking questions. “They really make an effort to educate themselves about what’s going on.” 

She’s also been impressed with their conscientiousness in wanting to protect their families and vulnerable populations. She’s taken calls from students who planned to go home but wanted to be tested to make sure they were safe, or who developed a cough and didn’t want to put families at risk. “They’re really thinking and being empathetic. They’re looking out for themselves and for each other.”

Finding a Groove and looking forward

Eventually, the changes stopped happening so fast and the staff experiences began to level out. While there have been a few spikes in the number of cases here and there, the clinic is slowly starting to see less COVID and more of what they would see in a typical year. 

“People come in because they were on a scooter and fell,” said Stephenson. “Or they’re coming in with strep throat, that kind of thing.”

Tonyan agreed. “If you would have asked a month or two ago, it was all COVID. But now, people are coming in for sinus infections and ear infections.”

TriHealth staff at student health services have relied on each other in getting through this year. From open communication to providing input on improving flow to supporting each other through tough spots, the team grew stronger.

“Everyone here has been willing to go above and beyond. Come in early. Stay late. Out in the elements. Do what you got to do,” said McClain. “It’s made a cohesive group. It’s brought us closer together.”

“It’s really been a bright spot,” said Stephenson, of the TriHealth team. “We come together and make the best of it and do what we have to do to take care of each other.” 

Stephenson, Tonyan, and McClain each feel more hopeful now than they have in a while. 

“I feel optimistic now more than anything,” said Tonyan. “It’s very exciting because so many young people are getting vaccinated. People are signing up as soon as they can.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody’s teeth,” Stephenson said. “When we see everyone’s teeth, that’s when we know we’re on the other side of this thing. It’s crazy what you miss… I miss seeing the smiles.”