Covid story 13

COVID-19 and Nursing Education – Reflections from a Dean and Faculty Member

Carole Kenner, The College of New Jersey, Marina Boykova, Holy Family University, USA

COVID-19 changed the normal rhythm of our teaching.  In the United States, our programs were halfway through our semester – only weeks away from graduation ceremonies and summer vacations.  Suddenly we evacuated our offices and classrooms.  Our students moved out of their dorms with no time for saying goodbye to friends.  As faculty, we were thrust into using technology and online platforms that seemed foreign to many faculty who only taught in a traditional face-to-face manner.  Our clinical partners ban students-in part for their patient safety and because personnel protective equipment was scant. 

We live and work in one of the hardest-hit areas of the US and were under ‘shelter in place’ orders from mid-March through June.  In the first few chaotic weeks, we gave our nursing school laboratory equipment and protective gear away to nearby hospitals.  We received requests almost daily for help at the frontlines.  Students from our nursing and public health schools/departments were deployed to work in state and local departments of health call centers to answer questions about testing, symptoms, and treatment.  Others delivered meals and did health assessments for those who could not leave their homes.  Reports from the frontlines poured in describing emergency rooms as war zones – without adequate equipment or personnel.  Students, faculty, and staff were scared as family members and friends tested positive and some died.  People were dying alone.  Nurses used using all available technology such as FaceTimeã so loved ones could be present and say goodbye. Emotions ran high.  COVID-19 support groups were started to ensure that frontline nurses could stay strong. 

The campuses remained eerily quiet.  Streets deserted.  Stores boarded.  The days of isolation grew.  Yet the work of teaching and learning continued.  Classrooms and clinical rotations became online, virtual meetings and simulations.  The number of virtual meetings increased as well as hours of work.  The use of Zoomã, Google Hangouts ã, and other conference meeting software became the norm.  Seven and eight hours a day of intense meetings or teaching sessions and meetings with students set the day’s schedule.  For those in administration, plans for keeping faculty, staff, and students safe as well working on teaching plans/reopening plans for the fall added to the workload.  Eighteen-hour days became the norm.  We have never been as exhausted in our lives!

Worries about the success of the students ensued.  First, the question was did they have access to the Internet or computers/tablets for classes?  If not how could we provide this technology?  Would this teaching modality prepare them for the real world of nursing if they had limited patient contact? Would they pass their licensure and certification exams? All questions we asked each other.  As an administrator (CK) I worried about the impact on our budget, as we are very dependent on tuition and dormitory revenue.  How many students would not be able to continue in the summer or fall due to their family’s or their loss of employment?  We have about a 13% unemployment rate at present.  Our states (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) incurred heavy debt due to the large numbers of COVID-19. 

Several lessons have been learned during these unprecedented times of the pandemic.  Out of adversity comes creativity. Our senior students graduated and few suffered academic setbacks. Most students have jobs but have difficulties starting as testing sites for national licensure and certification exams remain limited and the board of nursing in New Jersey is furloughed due to budget cuts.  However, emergency measures afforded them the opportunity to work as graduate nurses before receiving their licensure.  Faculty found the use of technology in some cases, enhanced learning even though online teaching was more intense than in a face-to-face environment, so the online teaching and learning activities were not so bad as we thought. Innovative ideas sprang from adversity with faculty sharing ideas and working with administrators to strengthen programs, maintain quality education, but institute cost-saving measures.  We are entering a new way of life – wearing masks, practising social distancing, contact tracing – but as nurses, we are also recognizing the tremendous contribution we make either at the frontline of care or education.  We are making a difference in the lives of the people we serve and the students we educate.