We Are Basically in Survival Mode But It Is Time to Change Our Focus

By: Donna Guerra, EdD, MSN, RN, University of Alabama in Huntsville

Our days have been chaotic over the last year. We are just basically surviving these uncharted COVID here in nursing education. Our best-laid plans are upended, often before we finalize them. We constantly ask questions: Are we allowed to take students to this unit? Or is it designated COVID? Have they decreased the number of clinical students we can have on this unit? And the most dreaded question of all: Can we even take students to clinical?

In our classrooms and office spaces we have PPE and environmental policies and procedures that mirror those we follow in clinical areas. Common areas that we hold sacred were once places we could congregate, without fearing the spread of contamination and disease. It seems so long ago that we took for granted the ability to use classroom and clinical time to collaborate on group activities, practice assessments, and have the physical contacts that are so vital to nursing practice.

Web-conferencing has become a friend we’ve gotten to know intimately. We can navigate menus and settings and set up breakout rooms with the most experienced work-from-homers. We’ve become accustomed to the 2D images of our students in virtual classrooms and our colleagues in meetings. We’ve impressed ourselves (and our students!) with creative alternative clinical experiences, pulling out our kids’ dolls and animals to perform dressing changes and trach care. We’ve combed all the resources available to us to find scenarios that we can adapt to this remote clinical world we’ve had to create.

We’ve worried about our students. They struggle with learning hands-on skills without being able to be hands-on. They’ve had to adapt to educational experiences that seemingly remove them from the contact they need to grasp the concepts of nursing practice. No longer are they able to meet together in study groups and practice assessments on one another the way they once did. Outside of their academic responsibilities they are working on COVID units, constantly exposed to the dreaded virus that is wreaking havoc on our world. Many are tired. Tired of online class. Tired of isolation and disconnectedness. Tired of watching the suffering of others before they are even full-fledged nurses. They are afraid. Afraid of getting sick, afraid of passing the virus on to classmates or family members or patients, and they’re afraid of failing.

All that being said, it is easy to focus on negativity and the challenges the pandemic has created in nursing education. But perhaps it is time to focus on positivity and the creativity we can take away from our experiences this past year, positivity and creativity that will make us stronger. We have not only devised innovative teaching strategies, we have shared them with others, and we have worked to form support systems directed toward common goals. Our perseverance as educators, our fellow nurses on the front lines, and our students have demonstrated in the face of adversity physical and psychological resilience.

Nurses are much like diamonds – the hardest naturally occurring substances on the planet – full of sparkle and fire and arguably the most prized gemstones of all. Let’s not forget that diamonds are not created easily, or without intense pressure. They are carbon atoms bound together under tremendous heat and pressure to form beautiful crystals. Likewise, we nurses are not easily created. When we bind together under the extreme pressure and heated atmosphere of our current circumstance, we can emerge strong and exquisite.

No pressure, no diamonds. –Thomas Carlyle

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