Healthcare Education During a Pandemic: Belmont’s Nursing Program Goes Online
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Healthcare Education During a Pandemic: Belmont’s Nursing Program Goes Online

COVID-19 has been changing the lives of nurses everywhere – even those in training at Belmont.

Both students and faculty in Belmont’s nursing department have had to make adjustments to accommodate the university’s move to online learning. Social distancing measures and recommendations from care facilities associated with the nursing program have necessitated significant changes to the format of experiential learning classes in particular. 

“When the quarantine fell on us, we could no longer meet on campus for lab or simulation. Then, the clinical site said ‘No, you can’t come.’ So we’re having to figure all that out,” said clinical instructor Sara Camp.

On March 30, students enrolled in Foundations of Experiential Learning were informed that any outstanding experiential learning hours were to be made up through the completion of two virtual clinical experiences. 

These virtual clinical experiences will present students with a case in which an avatar will play the role of the patient, answering students’ questions through a speech bubble. After finishing these simulations, students will meet for a structured debriefing via Blackboard Collaborate.

Not all nursing courses have had to undergo such major changes in format. In fact, many nursing majors had incorporated online learning into their schedules prior to the pandemic. 

Some classes, such as Nursing Research, Lifespan Nutrition and Introduction to Pharmacology are only offered as web courses. 

“There’s really nothing that changed for those classes except that some of the due dates moved around,” said Erin Corcoran, a sophomore nursing major enrolled in all three of the above courses.

Sophomore nursing students have also incorporated online learning by utilizing a flipped classroom model in their in-person classes. 

This teaching method requires students to familiarize themselves with new material at home before coming to class for a more in-depth lecture.

“You read the textbook, you watch the videos and you come to class with your questions,” explained Corcoran. 

Although professors are working hard to ensure that the fully-online versions of their courses maintain their original standards of academic rigor, there are some aspects of nursing education that cannot be replicated virtually. 

“Before everything happened, we were supposed to return and go to three more clinicals. For my clinical group, we were supposed to go to our pediatrics rotation, but we are no longer able to do that,” said Patdy Leong, a junior nursing student.

“Clinicals and labs provide things that cannot be taught virtually. Even though an online simulation is better than nothing, it just doesn’t compare to being there in person and taking care of a real patient.”

“There is nothing that can fully take the place of hands-on learning with our patients. There is no way to watch a video enough times to be able to do a skill, you have to do it yourself,” noted professor Camp. 

COVID-19 will continue to impact some students’ education through the summer months.

Junior nursing major Abbi Momot had been accepted into a competitive nursing internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center set to start in mid-May. Due to the pandemic, this program has been canceled as well.

Fortunately, students and faculty are finding ways to make the most of the circumstances.

“Historically, by nature, nurses are pretty flexible. This is just another incident of where we have had to modify and do things differently,” said assistant professor Tammy Legge. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time on individual phone calls or Collaborate phone calls just individually with a student and it seems that I have a lot more time throughout this to really dedicate longer periods of time to students.”

Some senior and graduate level nursing students have gotten directly involved with relief efforts by spending their clinical hours answering calls to the COVID-19 hotlines at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

“This partnership allows them to complete required clinical hours, to practice and enhance their communication skills, while contributing to the health of our communities during these challenging times,” said lecturer Sarah Tarr. 

Nevertheless, even underclassmen students have been sure to take note of what these times mean for them and their profession. “Soon, it’s going to be my job, my profession to deliver care to everyone – anyone.” said Corcoran. 

“This is a perfect example of why we do what we do.”

Article written by Alexandra Kendall.

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