From a nursing faculty perspective, the COVID-19 experience has been surreal. The spring 2020 semester began like any other, and the ebbs and flows of the semester were typical. The first few weeks are busy to overflowing with introductions and starting clinical experiences. Then we settle into the normal, busy pace of teaching and learning. As all Americans, I heard smatterings and the first news reports about COVID-19 in January, but never imagined the events that would take place in such a short period of time.
By the second week of March, Pennsylvania was preparing for the storm. We received information that schools in the Philadelphia area were sending students home, and colleges/universities across the state quickly followed. Our institution had roughly a one-week warning before our campus closure went into effect. College administrators were supportive of programs that require experiential learning for entry into practice (including nursing); thus, nursing students were permitted to stay on campus. The following week we received notice one by one from our clinical agencies denying student access. Within 24 hours of the first of these emails, every agency had closed its doors to students. It was devastating for our faculty and students. Nursing students went home and we began the herculean task of moving every aspect of our program online… every learning activity, exam, and clinical experience.
That first week, I was in shock. The pressure was overwhelming. While moving the classroom online is annoying, it’s manageable. Clinical is another story. Developing clinical experiences for our students involves developing preclinical work, virtual simulations, individual work, group work, and post-conference. All of these are aimed at meeting course objectives that otherwise would have been done in a hands-on environment. Creating a substitute for hands-on learning experiences feels so wrong to me.
As a result of the abrupt change, faculty have asked many questions: Is this virtual learning experience going to be good enough? What impact is “virtual” clinical going to have on students learning over the long-term in the program? How is this going to affect them as they transition into practice? Can we really say that students are “competent” when the experiential piece of learning is missing? Are the youngest members of our profession truly prepared for a situation like COVID-19? What impact is COVID-19 going to have on the nursing profession in the short- and long-term? Do our newest graduates understand what they are getting into?
As I write this, I reflect on the personal toll this has had. In January and February I was enjoying a “quiet” time in life, juggling work, home, and my children’s extracurricular activities. When COVID-19 hit, my husband and I were both sent home to telework. We struggled to fulfill our job responsibilities, “homeschool” our two oldest kids, and keep our preschooler entertained without too much screen time. I’ve experienced grief and high levels of guilt. The grief comes from the loss of countless things: freedom, innocence, community, security, and the ability to buy toilet paper. I have yet to come to the acceptance stage of the grieving process. I have felt extremely guilty about the denial, anger, and depression that I’ve experienced, because I don’t have a right to it. Currently, my husband and I have job security. We have internet access at home, food to eat, and our health. Yet there are people in our lives who have financial instability from this experience, and I have friends who work in hospitals and nursing homes providing care who risk their health and/or the health of their loved ones.
As we look toward the next school year, we are faced with unknowns: Will there be more quarantines? Will our students receive access to clinical agencies? Will we have to keep nursing programs online? COVID-19 will leave an indelible mark on our country’s psyche—how will the nursing profession influence the aftermath?
—Carrie P., DEd, RN
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