Dec 2, 2020
When one decides to pursue their dream of becoming a nurse, they generally know the road ahead will be challenging. It is a road that will require support, dedication, hard work, and long hours—but at the end of it, there will be a rewarding career. 2020 has required students to really have to focus on keeping the end-goal in sight (amongst all of the other distractions that COVID-19 has caused). Living in a pandemic has created additional challenges and stress for everyone in some way, but for those in education, it has changed or drastically altered their path.
In March 2020, the familiar face-to-face teaching model that students had come to know came to an abrupt halt. Instructors and students were moved from their classrooms into the virtual realm of online education by the global COVID-19 pandemic. For Practical Nursing (PN) students, this drastic switch took place in a matter of only a couple of days as their schedules are tight, and there was no time to lose. Being able to adapt and adjust was not necessarily easy for everyone. With so many moving parts involved in nursing education, there was a huge need for collaboration with several stakeholders. Licensing bodies, higher education accrediting bodies, school administrators, hospital administrators, faculty, and students began working together to identify the barriers and challenges each faced, as well as creating solutions to remove those barriers and obstacles. Thinking outside the box created significant opportunities for innovative learning.
Expectations, relationships, and routines were gone. In some ways, it was like starting something brand-new; classes were held on Zoom, and assignments and exams were re-evaluated or removed to ensure the workload was manageable while maintaining the program quality.
The real challenges became clear in the weeks to follow as some of our students had lost their part-time jobs or had spouses that lost theirs. Some had family members become ill, and some had family members they could no longer visit and support like they wanted or needed to. Many students had to teach themselves and their children, which increased the anxiety and fear of the unknown. There were so many questions about whether they would graduate on time or be able to go to the required clinical to be able to complete the course. What if they went to clinical and got COVID? There were many fears and stresses surrounding the transition into a workforce that was exhausted and overwhelmed.
Toni Schoenthal, a fourth-semester PN student in Regina, discusses her personal experience of completing nursing school in a pandemic. Toni is one month away from completing her two-year diploma and will be among Dumont Technical Institute’s (DTI) first Practical Nursing class to graduate during a pandemic. Toni pointed out that attending school during a pandemic has opened her eyes and has shown her she cannot always be in control of everything. One of the biggest challenges she faced was in March when all the schools and daycares in Saskatchewan closed. This left Toni at home, completing nursing courses online while also being a single parent to three children full-time. As she had been out of school for 15 years before entering the PN program, teaching herself and her children proved to be difficult. Furthermore, the lack of student and instructor communication was isolating.
PN students, including Toni, faced lost clinical time because the Saskatchewan Health Authority could not accept students into certain units. In which case, a virtual simulation was used to replace some of these experiences. While simulation is designed to replicate real nursing scenarios and teaches clinical decision-making skills, it does not compare to personal interaction. Due to the lost clinical time, Toni was concerned that she would not be fully prepared for the future. Time management, countless distractions, and constant juggling had Toni feeling the extra stresses and pressures of COVID-19 and its effects.
While Toni’s struggle seemed universal to a majority of DTI’s students, she noted that routine was more important than she had once thought. When asked to reflect on what the pandemic has taught her, Toni states, “I was surprised at how much value there is to routine. At home and outside of home, structure, routine, and socialization are so important at all ages, even in young children.” With her diploma insight, Toni is happy to feel purpose and accomplishment. Healthcare is very important and seeing the effects it has on others, has encouraged her to become an excellent nurse. “GDI has changed my life. There was a ton of support. Everyone was so welcoming and understanding. I gained a close-knit group of friends, and the smaller class sizes and more one-on-one interaction were among some of my favorite things about coming to DTI.”
As much as COVID-19 has presented some negative experiences or made things more difficult in several ways, it has also taught us many things. The sense of pride to see staff and students persevere through every challenge that presented itself was admirable. The nursing staff went above and beyond to put in the extra work to make sure they were navigating the new road as best they could and making sure no one was left behind. Watching the students transition to online learning and practice critical thinking made the faculty very proud. While educators are always encouraged to think outside the box, COVID-19 has held us to that task. It allowed us, DTI faculty and staff, to implement new things and teaching strategies that we may have never considered before; some of these things worked so well that we will continue to use them even when the pandemic is over.
As always, we are very proud of our upcoming graduating class, what a rollercoaster ride their journey has been. And while we feel saddened that we cannot celebrate their success how we would like to, we will certainly send our virtual hugs and congratulations as they begin their exciting new career.