Nursing Department prepares students virtually for growing healthcare demands

Cancellation of in-person classes presents difficulties for all members of Truman State University given the many corresponding adjustments to educational and work environments. These challenges have proven particularly troublesome, however, for Truman’s Nursing Department. As undergraduates embark upon a transition toward mediated learning, those pursuing careers in the medical profession are facing additional struggles to fulfill practical experience amid an explosion of healthcare demand. 

A primary concern regarding the new online curriculum was the capacity for clinical examination. In addition to completing curriculum and testing, nursing majors typically complete multiple simulations to prepare them for on-site tasks. With the face-to-face component missing, students and professors must now adapt to live labs and virtual application. 

Truman nursing professor Teak Nelson said she and her colleagues had originally planned on continuing with clinical sites that were still accepting students, but decided to replace these requirements with respect to student safety. 

“Faculty began developing contingency plans for their own individual classes to address potentials for both the short and long term,” Nelson said. “The nursing faculty met together multiple times that first week to address unique challenges this would pose our students, such as how to provide clinical nursing education when students are unable to return to campus right away to retrieve textbooks, resources and equipment, when student transportation to distance clinical sites is not recommended for protection of both themselves and others and when clinical agencies are restricting access of students for the same reasons.” 

With those considerations in mind, the department adopted virtual simulation technology to address the necessity for training. Students in junior and senior clinical courses are using this software to develop their clinical skills at each step surrounding the replicated simulation itself, from pre-brief and planning to post-simulation, documentation and reflection. Students are additionally able to analyze case studies through Zoom breakout rooms and address key concerns regarding certain situations. 

Though this is not ideal, Department Chair Brenda Wheeler maintains that the critical thinking dynamic is still there. 

“We teach our students the concepts but we also empower them to make sound decisions using what they’ve learned,” Wheeler said. “So even though they aren’t able to physically [take blood or feel a patient’s heartbeat], they can still go through that decision-making process, which is just as important. Critical thinking saves lives.” 

Despite increased reasoning opportunities, the process still has its complications. Students within the department have faced considerable uncertainty regarding not only present learning changes but also future career outlook. 

Sophomore nursing student Katelyn McCrary said the announcement prompted several emotions as a member of the program. 

“My initial response was one of shock, relief and a little dread all in one,” McCrary said. “I knew that nursing school was going to be very different online than what we had been experiencing in person, and I wasn’t necessarily excited for it.” 

Students are acclimating to life in a non-collegiate setting, entailing different housing conditions and work environments. For those witnessing current conditions for nurses in the field, however, these adjustments can bring both stress and solace. 

McCrary admitted that she gained a new appreciation for her job in fast food because of the distraction it provides from the issue. 

“I’ve been working during this whole ordeal, and in an odd way that’s helped me kind of release some stress,” McCrary said. “Although I may have to deal with rude people every day, being at work helps take my mind off of the stress that is online school.”

Many nursing students and alumni, however, have encountered little escape from recent anxieties as they embark upon work at busy hospitals and other primary care facilities. Nelson said these healthcare workers have been encouraged to reach out to their Alumni and Friends of Truman State University Department of Nursing Facebook group where they can share their stories of struggle and hope. 

One of the most common concerns voiced by group members are ventilator and PPE shortages, which have received several creative problem solving responses. Students are also taking part in this analytical process in each clinical course, with emphasis on nursing management of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. 

2020 graduates must now carry that knowledge with them where they are needed the most.  Senior nursing student Hannah Blackmore will be working at Kansas University Medical Center after Truman and is looking to find ways of fulfilling testing requirements under current conditions.  

Unfortunately, a lot of the testing locations have closed or reduced the amount of students who can take the exam at one time,” Blackmore said.  “The testing sites have closed the ventilations systems which means no air conditioning. They are also thoroughly cleaning in-between testers to ensure the safety of the students. It will be interesting to see how long it will take me to be able to take the exam since there are a limited amount of testing sites open, but I am optimistic.” 

While current adversities have made typical nursing preparation difficult, Nelson and Wheeler both assure that their students are uniquely ready for the coming challenges.  

Nursing faculty often note that employers particularly applaud their graduates’ application skills in addition to practical insight.  Nelson and Wheeler further stressed that this competence can be cultivated in multiple forms, including recent online means.  

“I think our students just need to believe in themselves,” Wheeler said. “This is an interesting time. Just like students all over the country, our students will have limited clinical experience in hospitals this semester. Most of them already have jobs lined up. It’s going to be challenging. If they just remember that thinking process, though — if they stop and think about what they know — they can be just as successful.”

Regarding career impact, healthcare professions will be some of the most affected by current circumstances. Nelson had a few suggestions for her nursing students in respect to the long journey ahead. 

“One of the provisions in the Nurse’s Code of Ethics is this: ‘The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence and continue personal and professional growth,’” Nelson said. “So, my advice to them is to remember that in the midst of caring for others to also take care of themselves, and remember that the body of nursing knowledge is constantly growing, so never stop learning.”