October 13, 2020

3 Professors Reveal How Nursing Schools Are Adapting to COVID-19

By: Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN 

Nursing students and faculty returned to school this fall full of uncertainty and questions about what nursing school will look like during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We spoke with three nursing faculty from different states to find out how the pandemic has affected students returning to nursing education this fall:

  • Kevin Cummings BSN, MS, RN, Nursing Program Manager & Adjunct Faculty Member at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia
  • Christina L. Scott DNP, MSN, RN, Nursing Faculty at Carrington Nursing College in Phoenix, Arizona and
  • Jeanne Carey, MEd, CHSE, RN, Director of Simulation at Baylor University in Dallas, Texas

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How is COVID-19 Affecting Classroom Teaching for Student Nurses?

As one might expect, Cummings notes “the current pandemic has affected all facets of nursing education. Classroom or didactic education has moved from a majority all in-person format to a hybrid format.”

Students Now Learn in Small Groups

Cummings says that “students are given the opportunity to attend classes in a set weekly rotation” in what the program refers to as "pods". Cummings explains “the pods are groups of students that attend lab, clinical, and in-person didactic offerings together” to limit exposure of students to other students not in their pod.

Or They Learn Online

Carrington Nursing College is a private college that operates year-round with three start dates for nursing students each year. This fall, Scott says most lectures at the college are being held online since being moved to this format in March 2020.

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How Do Labs Work in Nursing Schools During the Pandemic?

At Marymount, Cummings describes nursing labs as “socially distanced” and says students are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when attending labs. 

In addition, he says “students are screened for COVID symptoms prior to arrival to the lab via a COVID Symptom Tracker App….upon arrival to the lab, student temperatures are taken for screening purposes.” 

At Carrington, Scott states labs have resumed as well but students must wear masks and wash their hands before labs.

How Have Clinicals Been Changed Due to COVID-19?

Nursing programs have historically struggled to find appropriate clinical placements for students for a number of reasons. As Carey at Baylor points out, the current pandemic has made this even more difficult since hospitals have restricted access and are not allowing students in. She explains that hospitals are busy responding to the pandemic, in addition to caring for patients, and don’t have time to supervise students.

Some Students are Beginning to Get Back to Clinicals

For students at Carrington, some hospitals began allowing students to return to clinical areas the last week of September 2020 and into the first week of October 2020. 

However, Scott says these facilities have “severely” reduced the number of students they’re permitting back into the hospital as well as the number of hours students can be in the hospital units. 

Cummings states some clinical sites have reduced the size of clinical groups they allow to half their pre-COVID allotments. He says “clinical education has become very strict with guidelines for patient care” and students are being well trained on PPE procedures.

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Are Students Screened or Tested for COVID-19 as a Requirement for Participation in Nursing Programs This Year?

As noted earlier, Cummings states students are screened for symptoms prior to labs via a COVID Symptom Tracker and then screened when they arrive for labs by having their temperature assessed. 

Scott says nursing students at Carrington must undergo screening and testing for the virus two weeks before the start of their clinical experience. She explains “depending on the clinical site students need to obtain a test for COVID-19, however, for school they do not need to have a test”. 

She says students must also have their temperature taken before coming into the school. And if students have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, they’re not permitted back to school for two weeks.

Is This Pandemic Providing any Unique or Special Learning Opportunities for Nursing Students? 

If there’s a bit of a silver lining to COVID-19 for nursing students and faculty, it’s been the opportunity to use simulation to create meaningful and safe patient scenarios for students they might not have the chance to experience in a traditional clinical placement.

Simulated Learning Can Expand Nurses' Experience

Carey explains “even in the pre-COVID world, learning in the traditional clinical setting was becoming more restricted by shorter lengths of stay for hospitalized patients, higher patient acuity, and policies that impose more and more limitations on what students are allowed to do in a hospital setting. Some argue that the traditional clinical experience is becoming one of observation, rather than performance. Simulation stands in stark contrast to this as it allows students to perform a wide variety of skills, both technical and non-technical, without risking harm to patients and ensures that all students get the learning opportunities they need.”

Likewise, Cummings states the most significant learning opportunity for students at Marymount has been the incorporation of online simulation modalities. He notes the Virginia Board of Nursing supports this teaching modality for pre-licensure nursing students and says they’ve had a positive response from students as well.

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What Role Will Simulation Play in Nursing Education for Current and Future Students?

Carey points out that the landmark 2014 NCSBN study that “validated the worth of simulation when they stated, there is ‘substantial evidence that substituting high-quality simulation experiences for up to half of traditional clinical hours produces comparable end-of-program educational outcomes…’” including new nursing graduates that are prepared for clinical practice.

She says given the advancements being made in simulation, this learning modality has become a cornerstone in nursing education and will continue to play a significant role in preparing future nurses.

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