BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In August 2020, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Caitlyn Phillips took her first step into Adventist Health Bakersfield.

“COVID-land,” Phillips said. “That’s what we called it.”

Like hundreds of thousands across the country, Phillips began her career as a nurse during the largest public health crisis in a century. ‘Unprecedented times’ became all that she knew.

“I realize now, looking back, how different it was,” Phillips said.

Many didn’t feel prepared.

“You learn about things in school, but not COVID,” Adventist nurse Lydia Torres said. “It’s brand new, so we kind of just learned as we went along.”

In a classroom just months before, Torres and Phillips now helped family after family say goodbye.

“The amount of death that I saw, how sick our patients were on our floor, and the fact that families couldn’t be at bedside, at the time that was all I knew,” Phillips said. “And that was not normal.”

The hospital is closer to normal now.

“Apparently this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Phillips said.

Phillips says her first two years haven’t made her reconsider her career choice. In fact, an American Nurse Journal study indicates more than 80 percent of nurses feel the same.

In the relative calm this spring, she’s had time to reflect.

“I just will probably never experience the amount of death that I did,” Phillips said. “The entire hospital, Adventist Health, and throughout Bakersfield, we all will bear the burden of how much life was lost, and how much we saw.”

A burden she bears more than most.