Constricted by COVID-19: College of Nursing

The 160 senior nursing students are all on track to graduate in May even though their clinicals were cut short. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

This story is a part of a continuing series that highlights the changes deans and professors had to make in order to successfully transition from face-to-face instruction to remote online coursework as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The College of Nursing (CON) is using all of its resources in a creative effort to provide the same educational experience to its students before the switch to remote instruction, mandated by the Florida Board of Governors, was made. 

Elizabeth T. Jordan, vice dean of undergraduate and global programs, is overseeing the transition in coursework for the college as well as the graduation status for nursing students.

“Our biggest challenge right now is getting students back into clinical, lab and simulation settings,” Jordan said.

Clinicals are a crucial part of the curriculum at USF’s CON for graduate and undergraduate students.

“Clinical experiences are the foundation of successful completion of the baccalaureate program in nursing,” according to the USF CON Student Handbook of College Policies and Procedures. “Experiences required in this program are designed to assist students in acquiring the competencies needed for beginning professional practice.”

The status of nursing students’ graduation is connected to their ability to attend clinicals. 

“They are required to do a certain amount of hours of clinical so that they can graduate, so we’re closely monitoring that situation and hope to be able to support those students,” Jordan said. “That is a bit more of a challenge for us.”

Even given the circumstances, undergraduate pre-licensure nursing students in their last semester are still on track to graduate with their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

“Quite honestly, we don’t see any student not being able to graduate at this point,” Jordan said. “We anticipate that all of our pre-licensure students will be able to graduate. We have 160 of them that we anticipate will graduate in May.”

The CON has shown similar success for its future students as well amid the obstacles of the pandemic. They interviewed 260 candidates for their summer accelerated program and upper-division program using Zoom and Canvas within the last week.

“It was fabulous,” Jordan said. “It really went smoothly.”

Jordan sees continued success for the CON as their programs continue to adapt to the circumstances posed by the coronavirus.

“We’ve been able to be pretty pivotal in going from some of our face-to-face classes to remote synchronous delivery,” Jordan said. “This past week was our first full week of providing that synchronous delivery of courses remotely and it’s going very very well.”

The CON is currently working with the Florida Nursing Coalition to develop coursework that will parallel the quality of in-person classes. They are using a combination of resources from the Florida Nursing Coalition, the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and the Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI) to help replace in-person instruction for nursing students as well as supplement their education. 

IHI is an organization involved in “improvement science and patient safety to advance and sustain better outcomes in health and health care,” according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement website.

ATI is a company that provides online education resources for health care and vocational fields. It has always been available to nursing students, but the company is crucial now that coursework is online.

“ATI provides some virtual simulations, as well as practice exams and other types of remote activities to support their [nursing students’] coursework as they go through their curriculum,” Jordan said. “During this time of COVID-19, we have been able to enhance the use of this ATI technology and we’re complementing it with the other virtual simulations that have been developed as well as WHO [the World Health Organization] and IHI remote course availability.” 

Two virtual simulations have been specifically developed in collaboration with the Florida Nursing Coalition to replace nursing students’ clinical hours, during which they would usually work firsthand in nearby hospitals. 

“The simulations include quality and safety, as well as some of the work from the IHI,” said Jordan.

As of right now, clinicals are suspended until April 6, but Jordan said there is a possibility that nursing students will have to wait even longer.

“We do believe that extension may be further extended, and at that time, we will need to re-evaluate,” Jordan said. “We are prepared that if we do not return on April 6, to continue to move forward and offer students alternative experiences.”

Permission for students to re-enter hospitals to engage in their clinical courses in-person is at the discretion of the hospitals that host USF students, not USF administration.

“Whether or not we return to clinicals is dependent on our hospitals — and that’s critical,” Jordan said. “The USF community is willing to help and send students back into clinical, but we need our hospital partners to let us know that it is OK to come back to clinical.”

If students were to return to hospitals for their clinicals, they would be helping patients receiving hospital care for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus. 

The CON is ready to help its hospital partners by providing routine care for patients who haven’t been exposed to the virus yet.

Jordan said there is the possibility that hospitals may experience “a surge” of new patients, and nursing students would be able to provide health care to help supplement hospital care.

“We’re standing by ready to help if we get to that point in the crisis and our hospitals need that additional help,” Jordan said. “As the CON, we do not want to expose our students to COVID-19, but our students are health care providers and they can deliver health care, so we certainly could help them with certain routine patient care.”

This is especially true for the CON’s graduate students, as most of them are already working as licensed nurses.“Many of our graduate students are frontline nurses and back in school to get their nurse practitioner’s degree,” Jordan said. “We are trying to be able to help them continue in the program and be successful, as well as meet the health care demands right now.”