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Adapting to Change – Teaching Nurses Virtually 

Posted: April 3, 2020 — The current pandemic threatening our world is profound. This has affected every aspect of our lives, including our educational system. As of April 1, FM began providing all college classes and student services remotely.  The college experience that many of our students envisioned has changed.  Students have moved home, and we are all washing our hands, while either singing Happy Birthday or another song, for at least 20 seconds.

Let me summarize some of the ways that COVID-19 has impacted the nursing program at FM.  At the beginning of the pandemic, health care facilities needed to ensure they had enough equipment to meet the needs of their own staff. This meant that traditional nursing student experiences were halted across the state.  As part of their nursing education, each FM nursing student spends an average of 160 hours each semester caring for individuals in our local health care facilities. The change in “business as usual” prompted the nursing faculty to draft a virtual clinical plan, which was then approved by FM administration, the State University of New York and the State Education Department.

The virtual clinical plan includes a combination of individual and group activities.  This is because that is how nurses work. Case studies, which present a realistic health or disease related problem, require the students to apply their nursing knowledge to properly care and treat the individual.  Students are also flipping or reversing this when working on reverse case studies. The student groups are required to develop the details of a case study from scratch. Together, they must critically construct all the disease signs/symptoms, medications that could be prescribed, activity restrictions, wound care needed, consultations required, etc.  Students are also entering a virtual hospital. They are assigned to care for a group of individuals who have different care needs. The students must evaluate physical and emotional symptoms, decide who to care for first, and when to seek help from other health care team members.

Another virtual clinical experience involves listening to an audio recording of a homeless veteran discussing his health conditions. Thereafter, the individual student must decide how to care for and plan for this complex individual’s discharge. Students are watching movie segments of an individual’s experience with cancer treatment. This leads to an emotional discussion from the nursing perspective and from a personal/family perspective. For some levity, some students must complete an activity with a family member which involves putting on and taking off protective equipment. This “equipment” is not the typical gown, mask, gloves, and goggles. The students are asked to be creative such as putting on a jacket backwards for a protective gown and using sunglasses as protective goggles.

The pandemic will pass, but until then we must adapt. The end goal for the nursing program remains the same: To graduate knowledgeable and caring individuals who will join other caregivers to care for individuals who require healthcare, including those suffering from the coronavirus. Stay safe and be well.

This article was written by Sherry Warner, Assistant Professor of Nursing at FM.

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