Throughout a challenging and disruptive year, Gator Nursing students have quickly adapted to changes in their respective nursing programs — running the gamut from fully online classes to coming face to face with COVID-19 patients.
In the spring semester, seniors in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, program learned their clinical experiences would make history. Not only were they required to complete 16 hours in COVID-19 vaccination clinics — with many volunteering additional hours — the students also rotated through UF Health Shands COVID-19 units and intensive care units.
These clinical experiences were carefully, thoughtfully and safely developed in collaboration with the college’s and hospital’s administrations to prepare well-rounded BSN graduates entering the workforce.
“We think it is crucial that students learn best practices for providing safe patient care in a supervised experience so they will have basic skills to safely practice in the current health care environment after graduation,” said Anna M. McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN, College of Nursing dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Professor. “Through these clinical and educational experiences, our Gator Nursing students are exceptionally prepared to provide the excellent nursing care that all patients deserve.”
A new shot
As the country began to turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, Gator Nursing students lent their hands to assist UF Health’s efforts to combat the pandemic.
After the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the winter of 2020, College of Nursing students were invited to help deliver shots into the arms of the community. Students were later required to volunteer for 16 hours at UF Health vaccination clinics as part of their population health course.
In January, recent BSN graduate Julie Ng (BSN 2021) heard about a call for volunteers to administer COVID-19 vaccines at the Stadium Club, located inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. According to Ng, it was the perfect opportunity to help those in need.
“It was one of my favorite experiences in nursing school,” Ng said. “I really enjoyed being part of history, and it was encouraging seeing all the health professions come together to make a difference.”
Until her graduation in May, Ng gave out hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines to UF and UF Health staff, students, faculty and members of the Gainesville community during four-hour shifts. A new orthopaedics trauma nurse at Tampa General Hospital, she now feels comfortable administering the flu shot and anticoagulant medications to her patients, thanks to the hands-on vaccination training she received through her volunteering efforts.
For new UF Health Shands cardiac nurse and recent graduate Zoe Sherman (BSN 2021), the vaccination clinic was a new way to interact with patients she would not have otherwise seen in traditional situations. Sherman said her volunteering helped her break out of the “student bubble,” and build relationships, not just with other providers who were administering vaccines but also members of the community.
“COVID-19 cost us a lot of learning opportunities, but I’m thankful the college did its best to make new ones,” Sherman said. “I learned the personal skills I needed to care for patients once I graduated.”
To give students firsthand experience in caring for COVID-19 patients on the frontline of care, the College of Nursing also offered the opportunity for BSN seniors to participate in two eight-hour shifts on UF Health Shands COVID-19 units 74 and 75. College of Nursing clinical faculty oversaw COVID-19 unit clinicals to help students become more comfortable and prepared caring for this patient population.
“We hoped that this clinical rotation would ‘demystify’ COVID-19 patients,” said David Derrico, MSN, BSN, CNE, RN, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing who worked with students on the COVID-19 unit. “In a few short months, these senior students were to enter the workforce and likely be assigned to care for COVID-19-positive patients — we believed this would be a valuable experience to include in their nursing education.”
Logan Carney (BSN 2021), worked on the UF Health Shands COVID-19 unit as part of her senior year nursing clinicals.
A critical care tech during her undergraduate career, Carney was already familiar with the hospital and patient care. But the clinical experience offered her a chance to interact with patients who required students to follow specific hospital procedures, such as wearing adequate personal protective equipment.
To Carney, the two days she spent on the unit in the spring semester helped her learn nursing techniques like “clustering care” — a procedure where nurses gather all materials needed for patient rooms ahead of time to limit cross-contamination — that she now uses in her new role as a nurse at the UF Health Shands Emergency Room. Although she did not directly care for COVID-19-positive patients during her time on the unit, observing how they are treated increased her confidence in her ability to care for any COVID-19 patients she may encounter on her unit safely and effectively.
“I went into it with an open mind,” Carney said. “It was extremely gratifying to help patients through their hospital stay, see how the disease impacts them and make a difference in their lives.”
In a year of historic firsts, another historic first made its way through clinical rotations. In the spring, senior BSN students were placed on intensive care units for the first time, marking a new chapter in their educational journey that provided diverse and varied clinical exposure and experience.
Gator Nursing students participated in three consecutive 12-hour shifts with highly experienced nursing staff in one of several ICU settings, ranging from neurology to the VA. Through these rotations, students were able to practice acute nursing care in a way they had yet to experience, and may not have until entering the health care setting upon graduating.
“Students were able to gain knowledge regarding how different intensive care units within a system operate,” said Debra Lynch Kelly, PhD, RN, OCN, CNE, FAAN, associate dean for academic affairs–undergraduate education. “This included exchange of communication, teamwork, patient acuity fluctuation and exposure to collaborating with nurses at the bedside for several concurrent shifts.”
Equipping nursing students with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills is an integral part of every nursing college. The same goes for clinical care settings, which helps promote new and unique clinical experiences and allows students to gain the confidence needed to deliver exceptional care.
For recent graduate Emily Smith (BSN 2021), the ICU rotation proved to be not only invaluable for her education and confidence, but it provided a life-changing opportunity along the way.
“Prior to the ICU rotation, I did have some fears just because the patient acuity is so high, and I felt a little overwhelmed,” Smith said. “However, our instructors did a good job of preparing us before the rotation and give us an idea of what to expect on the floor. After the first day on the ICU, I did not hold the same fears that I did when I first started the rotation.”
While the environment surrounding the ICU may not be for everyone, the opportunity to observe and further develop the skills needed to care for patients on these units was a major takeaway for Smith. So much so, that in July she will begin working at the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital in the neuromedicine ICU, the same floor she rotated on.
“I actually loved the ICU floor I was scheduled for so much that I decided to interview with the nurse manager, and I will be starting on that floor July 26,” Smith said. “I had a few other offers at the time, which I declined in hopes of getting the job on the neuromedicine ICU. Now, my goals are to succeed in this setting by always wanting to learn more, do more and see more.”