Due to COVID-19 outpatient clinic closures and heightened hospital regulations, Nursing School Dean Pamela Cipriano and other nursing administration have decided to cancel all clinical experiences for undergraduate students. Faculty and administration are now relying on a model made over two years ago by leaders of the nursing school to increase digital interaction and innovative learning so students can continue to develop skills in a time of social distancing.
Each semester starting their second year, nurses in the University’s School of Nursing must complete a specific number of clinical hours throughout various fields in order to graduate. These fields include specialties such as medical surgery, pediatrics, critical care, public health and obstetrics and gynecology.
According to third-year Nursing student Jaelen Guerrant, clinicals reinforce material in students’ lectures, as well as prepare them to take the national certification test for nurses — the National Council Licensure Examination.
Guerrant also emphasizes that clinicals allow nurses to learn skills and think critically during live patient care, directly preparing them for the workforce.
“Since we enter the professional realm of healthcare right after college, it is important and required for all student nurses to have experience in live patient care [and] to be able to practice with their license,” Guerrant said. “Clinicals are crucial for nursing students to learn skills and critical thinking with real patients and pathological conditions to prepare us for the workforce.”
As of last week, the administration still plans to hold clinicals for graduate students, such as those in the nurse practitioner program, but these plans may change as the pandemic worsens and hospitals adopt additional regulations, according to Cipriano.
Christine Kennedy, the nursing school’s associate dean for academic programs, addressed what might be the largest concern of clinical cancellation — changes to graduation status.
However, those graduating this year, according to Kennedy, have already obtained the necessary clinical hours for graduation.
“[When making the decision] our eyes were on students who were due to graduate to get them across the finish line as a marker of what they’ve done to be successful,” Kennedy said. “Undergraduates and graduates, our [bachelor of science in nursing] and [certified nursing leader] programs have done their clinical hours, so they were ready to graduate, which was critical, because hospitals really need an infusion of new nurses.”
Cipriano also emphasized the importance of getting new nurses into hospitals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 200,000 people in the United States are known to be infected with the coronavirus as of Thursday, with infection rates expected to continue increasing.
“Most registered nurses have no difficulty finding a job nowadays,” Cipriano said. “Nurses will be anxiously awaited to start their job, because [across the nation hospital] staff is exhausted, now that they have some new pressures, but we're on the front end of talking with our clinical partners as we start out new nurses.”
Cipriano has also observed that nursing students are excited to start their in-demand jobs, even before they finish their full nursing degrees.
“Many students are asking if they can take their [licensing] exam early or be a patient care technician while they wait to take their exam,” Cipriano said. “Many want to start their careers as soon as possible.”
However, despite this enthusiasm and demand for licensed nurses, many fourth-year Nursing students are experiencing delays obtaining their license, according to Cipriano, as many testing centers, where nursing fourth years would ordinarily take their licensing exam in the spring, are closed for at least the next month.
Cipriano explained that earlier in the pandemic the administration’s goal was to have undergraduate students return for clinicals after spring break — if they wanted.
“We at first said, ‘Yes, come back after spring break and finish clinicals,’” Cipriano said. “It was optional, but what was happening at the end of the week [was that] more and more clinical experiences [such as hospitals and outpatient clinics] said they didn’t want students in that environment with the pandemic, [so] we made the decision to not have fourth-year baccalaureate and second-year students finish clinicals.”
At a time when learning is turning virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing administration, faculty and students have had to work with this new online way of learning in an attempt to offset the loss of hands-on, real-world clinicals and classroom experiences, according to Cipriano.
“We are designing experiences where students can connect with each other in smaller groups as well as [in] larger groups [with] Zoom breakout rooms,” Cipriano said. “We're tapping into national resources [for] tried and true learning resources [while also] trying to change it up to make sure we're keeping our students engaged and excited.”
Kennedy believes the nursing school is ahead of schedule in implementing online courses due to a University Strategic Investment Fund grant of $2.5 million awarded to them by the Board of Visitors three years ago.
The grant, according to Kennedy, was the University’s investment in a new structural design model that would enlist a core group of faculty to find new ways to innovate and educate with technology.
“The reason we are as successful as we are [so soon] into this crisis is because that group became faculty allies and helped,” Kennedy said. “We had been working on this the past 2.5 years. Without it, we wouldn't be where we are today.”
However, for both Kennedy and Cipriano, classroom learning is not the only way to support nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nursing school is utilizing their Compassionate Care Initiative, a program that has self-guided meditations and mindfulness classes on their website and hosts virtual support events like community Zoom meetings with pets. For example, Kenny, the nursing school’s therapy dog, is available for Zoom sessions Tuesdays at noon through May 5.
Cipriano confirmed the importance of these programs, especially during these times.
“This situation isn't going to resolve overnight,” Cipriano said. “We are all going to have to figure out how to cope, and it's really a time to make sure we're looking out for one another.”