Page 42 - HealthcareNews May/June 2021
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software and new processes as well,” said Fugiel, reflecting on the early weeks and months of the pandemic. “And clinicals changed as well. Our practice partners worked well with us; they did a lot of brain- storming with us, and we were able to move forward with at least 50% direct care, and we got creative with adding other learning activities, such as virtual simulation and on-campus, high-fidelity simulation, vac- cine clinics, and long-term-care rotations.”
Teresa Beaudry, director of Nursing
at Holyoke Community College, agreed. During the early months of the pandemic, she noted, HCC moved to remote, face-to- face simulations via Zoom, a step up from ‘virtual’ programming.
“Virtual simulation is a student opening a product with no faculty member present, and they do a specific case study; remote
is a live simulation where, together, the faculty and students do a simulation as if they were in the building together,” she said — just one example of the creative use of technology to provide students with some- thing approximating hands-on experiences.
And as higher education moves ever closer to something approaching normal, it seems clear that many of the creative solu- tions found over the past 15 months at area schools will remain part of the learning landscape moving forward as administra- tors take the best from the pre-pandemic and COVID worlds.
“Stepping back, we’re now able to take a breath, look at what we did, and also decide what we’re going to continue on with,” Fu- giel said, “because we’ve certainly identified a lot of these new teaching methodologies as a benefit, and we’re going to continue with some of them.”
Beaudry agreed. Moving forward, she
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ultimately depends on the individual. Burgess emphasized that everyone is on their own journey, and it’s OK to move at a different pace than others.
“I advise people to be patient with themselves and not make any self-judgments just because their comfort level is different than their friends or co-workers,” she said.
One clear demand Brock has heard from workers in- volves flexibility in work schedules.
“For the most part, people have enjoyed working from home because it makes child care easier to manage, they have been able to match or exceed their productivity, and many report lower stress levels,” she said.
With that in mind, many employers are looking at a hy- brid model and trying to figure out the right mix between working at the office and from home.
A return to the office also means remembering how to be a colleague. Even if co-workers talk remotely every day, Mulcahy said people can get out of the habit of face-to-face
During CO- VID, Teresa Be- audry says, the school found some new and sometimes better ways of doing things that will carry over after the pandemic is history.
and 2021, going forward, but I really think that, when we re-entered the clinical envi- ronment in the summer and fall of 2020, they witnessed things, and had experiences, that previous students didn’t,” Scoble said. “They saw extraordinary teamwork among nurses, physicians, and other healthcare workers. And they learned a great deal clinically that they would not have learned otherwise given that the pandemic is a historic, unprecedented event.”
For example, she noted, “they didn’t just learn about things like infection control. They practiced them at an enhanced level.”
Fugiel agreed. “We were leery at first with not having as many direct-care clinical hours, but what we were able to imple- ment, and the varied experiences, have just been a wonderful learning opportunity that students in past classes have not been able to get — things like getting involved in the community, working at a vaccine clinic, and much more,” she said. “And then ... the flexibility; nurses have to be flexible, they have to handle change all the time — and these students certainly learned that.”
As for the students, earning a degree while also coping with all that COVID
threw at them provided memories (like taking in a virtual lecture while awaiting a COVID test at the Eastfield Mall), but also a head start, if you will, when it comes to taking on challenges, testing themselves
in ways they couldn’t have imagined when they first registered for nursing school, and, as Lebel said, doing “hard things.”
In many ways, the experience brought classmates even closer together, said those we spoke with, while also providing mean- ingful lessons in teamwork and adjusting to changing conditions.
“I think this experience made us stronger and better-prepared for what we’re going to face — and it made us stronger as a unit,” said Kenneth Tanon, another of the recent graduates at STCC. “Even though we weren’t able to see each other, we were able to stay strong and stay united through e-mails and Facebook. If I ever had an is- sue, I was able to communicate, and I think those skills are very valuable once you’re on a unit.”
Elaborating, he said successfully com- pleting a nursing program has always been a difficult test and means for gaining confi- dence and self-assuredness. COVID merely added more layers to that equation.
“To get to the end, you have to really want it, and COVID added to that,” he explained. “Without traditional learning, you have to be more self-directed and set the time aside; no one is going to hold your hand. The staff was accommodating and ready to help, but you had to show up and be willing to make the sacrifices that needed to be made.”
Lebel agreed. “I’m working now as an unlicensed nurse, and as soon as I pass
my NCLEX, I will be working as a nurse
in the same emergency department,” she said. “And those I’m working with truly feel that I’m prepared because I was able to go through this program and adapt and think quickly.”
   said, some students, especially those with children at home, might prefer the remote, face-to-face learning opportunities, and HCC will likely make them an alternative to in-person offerings.
Put to the Test
As the members of the class of 2021 move from the labs and classrooms to hos- pitals and other healthcare facilities, there will be obvious and lingering questions about how the COVID-mandated changes to way nursing was taught will impact these graduates’ readiness for the front lines.
Beaudry said the pass rates for the upcoming NCLEX exams might provide some clues, especially if the numbers fall dramatically. But for now, this question
of readiness for all that a nursing job will throw at these graduates is a matter of speculation. And those we spoke with are speculating that the collective experiences from the past 15 months are, in many ways, unprecedented and valuable in ways that cannot be easily measured.
“We’ll probably have much to learn from these graduates about the classes of 2020
“As silly as it sounds, practicing an in-person conversa-
tion with someone outside your bubble is one more way to prevent that overwhelming feeling of being thrown back into the workplace,” she explained.
Beyond water-cooler discussions, Burgess said a success- ful transition back to the office also requires companies
to be tuned in to the apprehensions their employees may have. “It will be important for people to have an open dia- logue with their employers about any anxieties or concerns they may be feeling.”
Added Favorite, “as a supervisor in the workplace, I’m having conversations with my staff to assuage their fears about coming back on site.”
Talk About It
One key to putting COVID behind us is recognizing what everyone has gone through since last March.
“For the past 14 months, we’ve lived in a world full of trauma,” Burgess said. “The idea that we can suddenly go back to the way everything was is an impossible task.”
Mulcahy said she has heard from people who are embar-
rassed because they feel stressed and anxious about return- ing to a more normal life.
“They feel like they should be happy and excited that people are vaccinated, but instead they just feel worried,” she noted. “I want people to know they are not alone and they can reach out for help to navigate these feelings; that’s why we’re here.”
Burgess also pointed out that life was different during the pandemic, and we should accept that we are not the same people we were before.
“Our life has changed, and we have changed in some of the ways we think, how we feel, and what feels safe,” she said. “It’s important to respect who we are today because that, too, is part of the process in getting back into the world.”
When everyone was forced to suddenly deal with a pan- demic, it created anxiety for many. Now, as the pandemic (hopefully) nears its end, that creates anxiety, too. Those who spoke with HCN agree that talking about this stress, and letting people know their feelings are valid, will go a long way to easing everyone’s anxiety.
After all, Favorite said, “we’re still learning how to be in a world where we don’t have to worry all the time.” v

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