KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — National Nurses Week wraps up on Thursday, May 12. It celebrates nurses and the vital roles they play.

East Tennessee is home to hundreds of nurses who change and save lives every day. WATE 6 On Your Side’s Elizabeth Kuebel met with two who made an impact during one of the toughest times for nurses: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We definitely were in some of the most difficult times with some of the most difficult patients,” said Chelsea Smith Hardin, a Parkwest Medical Center nurse.

Smith Hardin and fellow nurse Whitney Leon were on the same floor when it became the COVID unit.

After graduating from nursing school in 2020, Leon’s very first case was a COVID patient. Smith Hardin was training her.

“For my nursing career, all I really know was COVID,” Leon said. “Whenever I came into the floor, all I really had was COVID (patients). Unfortunately, we didn’t have other people on our floor that I could just go in and take care of, learn from that.”

“COVID is so different from all of the other healthcare things we’ve seen, so when you’re training somebody, you have to the entire time be like, ‘ok I know these numbers are ok with this patient who has COVID, but it would never be ok with a different patient who doesn’t have COVID.’ And having to completely go back and forth, and we had to learn on our feet a lot of the time,” said Smith Hardin.

Still though it all, neither can picture any other career.

“I love it and I love people, just being able to take care of them and be a little, sometimes, nobody comes to see them, and we’re just that little light in their day,” said Leon.

“It has been the best marriage of being able to use your heart to care for people and comfort people and being able to use your brain to solve problems and sometimes save lives,” Smith Hardin said.

The two also said to try and be kind and patient, to know that nurses are doing the best they can, and if one is taking care of you that you are their priority.