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The COVID-19 pandemic is a history-changing event of unprecedented scale and magnitude that affected nurses at all levels and thrust them into uncharted territories. Healthcare institutions have pivoted from the usual standards of care to adopting crisis standards of care thereby contributing to a constantly changing work environment. Interestingly, little was found in the literature focusing on nurses’ first-hand accounts of their experiences working through previous pandemics. This qualitative study sought to explore nurses’ first-hand experiences during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic using a phenomenological approach. One hundred sixty-one participants enrolled in the study. Demographic data, written narratives, and digital images were collected. The study utilized thematic analysis, and ever-changing environment emerged as the overarching theme along with six subthemes - adapting to a new role, innovation to practice, nurses’ fears and anxiety, job loss, lack of supplies, and emotional distress. The overarching theme and subthemes reflect the many changes that occurred within the work environment, to nursing practice, and to policies, resulting from the implementation of crisis standards of care. COVID-19 proved to be a history-making event that created great uncertainty among nurses in all settings and specialty areas. As crisis standards were adopted, frequent and sometimes significant changes to the work environment occurred. The first-hand accounts of the study participants illuminated the many gaps in public health emergency preparedness and response that require additional education, training, and policy development. Nurses need specialized support and education to manage their constantly changing environment.

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