FARGO — It may be no better time for National Nurses Week, and one thing is certain — it's being celebrated, and appreciated, much differently this year.

Cassie Fredricks, a registered nurse and clinical care leader, and Lexi Braun, a nursing practice specialist, are two of hundreds of nurses at Sanford Health in Fargo. They may not have even met if it wasn't for the COVID-19 pandemic, and now they've developed a friendship.

This is Fredricks' second career change. She's been a nurse since 2016. Braun has been working since 2014.

Like the nurses at hospitals across the country and around the world, Sanford's nurses are working extra hours, taking on different tasks in different departments, and going full speed from clock in to clock out.

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"It's a different kind of challenge than you could dream of," Fredricks said. "I've had a couple of people say it's like something out of a sci-fi movie.'"

They share a common goal in helping fight COVID-19, and often, they face unforeseen obstacles.

"It's definitely more mentally exhausting. It's like the ICU on steroids," Braun said.

Both know it's important to stay strong, and Fredricks has her unique routine to prepare for the day.

"Honestly, when I'm on my way to work, and getting into my work mindset, I play really heavy metal," she said. "It really helps."

Not only do they stay strong for themselves, their colleagues and their families, they recognize the needs of their patients. They say it's especially scary for them, with so much still unknown.

"The nurses come in and do what we need to do, but it's still hours upon hours alone, with nothing to think about except the fact that you're in there," Fredricks said. "When I'm having these conversations with these people, I really feel for them because it really is a singular fight."

"The biggest thing for nurses is to display that they're courageous, they're resilient, they're flexible," said Theresa Larson, Sanford vice president of nursing and clinical services. "They're really at the center of patient care."

Larson said the hospital has some interactive social distancing activities in place of in-person celebrations this week. Now, more than ever, they're appreciating the recognition for their hard work, and have never been prouder to be doing what they do. Sanford is also planning to hold a banquet for National Nurses Week at a later date, once it's safe to do so.

"If people are willing to accept the challenge, and make some sacrifices once and a while ... I would never tell someone not to go into nursing," Fredricks said. "I just love it so much."