While some may view transitioning a nursing program to a virtual format as a hindrance, the UF College of Nursing turned it into an opportunity to move the college forward and expand how students learn.
Like all colleges, the College of Nursing had to quickly alter the approach to course delivery for students in order to safeguard public health and comply with UF guidelines given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty quickly stepped up to invent and implement new ways to deliver courses virtually while maintaining the college’s expected rigorous instruction.
“One of the challenges we faced was the creation of a meaningful clinical experience for students, particularly students close to graduation where the stakes are so high,” said Assistant Dean of Simulation-Based Learning Jane Gannon, DNP, CNM, CHSE. “The effort required more collaboration between students and faculty in that final semester than ever before because we did not have staff nurses from the clinical setting working side by side with students.”
For undergraduates nearing graduation in the spring and summer, clinical courses were designed for meaningful online experiences using a product originally designed for delivery of high-fidelity simulations in the laboratory setting. Graduation requirements include the need to meet course objectives and acquire a certain number of hours per clinical course. To accomplish this, faculty used the course objectives as they designed the clinical learning experiences.
“Faculty assigned pre-simulation activities that prepared students for each simulation so they were aware of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to care for their client,” Gannon explained. “These included concept mapping, skills drills and videos, readings, quizzes and other activities.”
For each clinical group, the instructor was engaged in both the preceptor and the assigned faculty role. What evolved from this was a deeper understanding of each assigned student’s preparedness for the role of professional nurse. Weaknesses and strengths were both more readily apparent, facilitating the ability to address any remaining learning needs, and to challenge those ready for greater care complexity.
“We learned the benefit of a virtual clinical experience over time; it definitely was not immediately apparent in the first few weeks, as both faculty and students had to adapt to this new teaching/learning process,” Gannon said. “But then faculty began noticing better exam scores, and students began expressing enthusiasm for each clinical day when they sought to find out what change in their patient’s care they would encounter.”
Gannon said one of the key benefits of simulation is the ability to control the patient condition to ensure that all students are exposed to a critical clinical experience that tests their care management competence.
“In essence, students did everything they would have done in the actual clinical environment but more purposefully and with greater oversight,” Gannon shared. “Both the faculty and students were able to better understand the impact that the student’s care management decisions had on their patient.”
In the fall, the UF campus was reopened and students were able to return to in-person instruction, albeit with safeguards and limitations. Courses that do not require an on-campus presence are being delivered virtually, including a blended delivery of content in both synchronous and asynchronous modalities, online instruction and other experiential learning activities.
Since the spring and summer semesters were transitioned online in response to COVID-19, models were already in place for the fall. A low-residency model was designed to plan experiential activities for BSN students, all while restricting on-campus presence to only what was minimally necessary. Experiential activities were taught in a four-week, on-campus block format using multiple shifts, days and weekends within the semester. These activities included face-to-face simulations, skills labs and clinical assignments (patient care). Nursing care continued to be delivered in the inpatient clinical setting and every opportunity was used for students to gain valuable clinical learning.
When the senior cohorts returned to campus in September, as health care professionals, they modeled healthy habits and behaviors to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Personal protective equipment and instructions for appropriate use were provided prior to all clinical activities.
“The College of Nursing has implemented every safety precaution available to us,” said Hannah Messenger, BSN senior and Nursing College Council president. “We were required to get a COVID test, fill out questionnaires, they gave us PPE and N95 masks, and require us to stay home if symptomatic. During in-person class/lab, we are all six-feet apart and maintain the necessary precautions.”
And while the 2020 fall semester looks unrecognizable compared to years past, the College of Nursing has taken great measures to ensure students know they are still receiving the same exceptional learning experience, both on campus and off.
“The College of Nursing has done extensive planning to give us the best experience possible and create successful new nurses. After experiencing the first few days back on campus, it is evident how much work, time and effort the college has dedicated to giving us the best learning experience possible during the pandemic. Not only have they arranged the schedules and requirements necessary for us to go back to clinicals, but they also have taken the time to implement.