It’s All Theoretical: Nursing Education in the Times of a Global Pandemic

Written by Vicki L. Ericson, DNP, ANP, FNP, Associate Professor at St. Catherine University

St. Catherine University was founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as a Catholic liberal arts college for women. Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, St. Catherine University prepares nurses at the baccalaureate, master’s, and clinical doctorate levels and offers eight programs of study.

Sun shining through front Gates of St. Catherine University with lots of beautiful trees and flowers

Living in Helicy

Helicy is one of the homeodynamic principles defined by Martha Rogers in The Science of Unitary Human Beings. Helicy describes the ever-present condition of unpredictability and change (Butcher, 2021). The unpredictable, unfolding patterns of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coinciding unrest over racial inequality that consumed 2020 are exceptional examples of Rogers’ concept of helicy. During those unprecedented occurrences, nurses lived in the “heart of helicy” (Butcher, 2002, p. 6) by acting intentionally and compassionately in the face of significant uncertainty and unpredictability. For most of the year, designated by the World Health Organization as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, nurses joined the frontlines to provide care and comfort to patients suffering from an extremely contagious and deadly virus, not knowing what that meant for their personal safety. As of April 7, 2021, 562 nurses in the U.S. who contracted COVID-19 after caring for patients affected with the disease had died, and a disproportionate number were nurses of color (The Guardian, 2021).

Learning Virtually

While not all nurses faced the same life and death situations, faculty in the Department of Nursing at St. Catherine University also joined forces swiftly and efficiently to continue providing excellence in nursing education, safely and compassionately, during the pandemic. Faculty scrambled to transition courses to online learning platforms and were committed to the same relationship-based education while adapting to the moving target of pandemic constraints.

Nursing faculty identified alternatives to replace the traditional clinical education experiences that were not available in local healthcare agencies due to increasing restrictions for students. In prelicensure programs, more frequent and more intense simulation activities were developed—both virtual and (when possible) in person. When several of our clinical partners suspended student nurse practitioner clinical rotations due to the pandemic, faculty advocated for precepted telehealth encounters in their own clinical practices. Students were offered opportunities to learn along with everyone else about the intricacies of providing virtual primary care. And like most of the nation, Zoom became our primary connection to family, friends, colleagues, and our students.

Caring Virtually

Two other helicy-type events simultaneously confronted Minnesota nurses in 2020. On May 25, George Floyd was killed in broad daylight by Minneapolis police, and people around the world viewed the gut-wrenching video of his murder. It was evident by then, according to pandemic statistics, that there was a disproportionate risk of serious illness for Black Americans infected with COVID-19, confirming what we as nurses already knew about social determinants of health. Our city was burning, and we felt defeated in our efforts toward social justice. The university closed, and all non-essential employees were asked to take two days off to reflect, help, and begin to heal.

Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring promotes the practice of authentic presence for caring and healing (Watson, 2005). During these volatile times, expressions of care such as holding another’s hand, giving and receiving a hug, or gathering together in support were not possible. Dr. Watson importantly notes that our presence (human-to-human) need not take place in the same space and time and can, through cyberspace, often lead to “intense personal intimacy with strangers and friends alike” (Watson, 2005, p. 201).

Likewise, Rogers explicates the concept of pandimensionality, a non-linear and non-local process that allows for distance healing to create new energy patterns (Butcher, 2021). The need for caring as well as learning was considerable and was provided virtually by faculty both synchronously and asynchronously. Faculty held virtual listening sessions and were intentional in authentic presence to simply hear students. Synchronous courses opened with an emphasis on making time to listen and support the expression of both positive and negative feelings. Recorded lectures were developed with the concepts of authentic presence in mind. In similar ways, faculty and staff took care of each other virtually.

Watson (2002) asserts that one of nursing’s shared tasks is “finding meaning in our own life and health-illness concerns, as we reawaken to our profound compassionate, caring and healing service in the world” (p. 3). Organized volunteer work in COVID-19 testing clinics offered students opportunities to awaken to compassionate, caring, and healing service. Many faculty volunteered with students to be authentically present while providing COVID-19 testing. Ultimately, and certainly in a much more joyous setting, nursing faculty and students enthusiastically volunteered in large numbers to administer vaccines, first for the most vulnerable and then for all.

Purpose, Resolve, and Harmony

As we reflect back on the 2020 academic year, faculty were adapting to the “new normal” of the pandemic: students were allowed on campus only for simulation and laboratory activities; in addition, they were required to complete careful screening for potential illness, wear PPE, practice social distancing, and quarantine as necessary. Additionally, in late September 2020, the Department of Nursing completed a continuing accreditation review conducted virtually by the ACEN for the eight programs of study offered in our baccalaureate, master’s, and clinical doctorate degree programs. Preparing for a virtual accreditation visit during a pandemic is another exemplar of helicy.

At the time this article was written, 66.4% of the population ages 12 and older in Minnesota had had at least one COVID-19 vaccine (MN COVID-19 Response, 2021). The trial in Minneapolis for the murder of George Floyd concluded, and for the most part the outcome equaled justice. In Fall 2021, the university will welcome all employees and students back to campus, and COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory.

New energy patterns will evolve as we begin this academic year. Nursing faculty will return with a stronger commitment to social justice and a deeper understanding of the social determinants of health. Instances of “caring moments” will likely increase. Following our accreditation experience, the Accreditation Readiness Committee was created to continuously shepherd existing and new processes and procedures needed to maintain the integrity and quality of our nursing programs.

Helicy is ever-present. To live in the heart of helicy, nursing faculty must always engage compassionately and knowingly in the unfolding patterns of unpredictability to cultivate purpose, forge resolve, and recover harmony (Butcher, 2002).

Written by Vicki L. Ericson, DNP, ANP, FNP, Associate Professor at St. Catherine University

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Vicki Ericson, 110 Whitby Hall, St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105. Email: [email protected]


Butcher, H. K. (2002). Living in the heart of helicy: An inquiry into the meaning of compassion and unpredictability within Rogers’ nursing science. Vision10(1), 6–22.

Butcher, H. K. (2021). Martha E. Rogers’ nursing science: The science of unitary human beings 2.0.

Minnesota COVID-19 Response. (2021, July 26). Vaccine data.

The Guardian. (2021, April 7). Lost on the frontline.

Watson, J. (2002, January–March) Nursing: Seeking its source and survival. ICUs and Nursing Web Journal.

Watson, J. (2005). Caring science as sacred science. F. A. Davis.

ACEN Everywhere and Webinars Bring Accreditation to You!

Written by Suzette Farmer, PhD, RN, Director at the ACEN

Did you know that the ACEN has a number of professional development offerings designed to help you better understand accreditation? The ACEN Staff are continually working to ensure you have easy access to self-directed learning activities on your schedule.

We have free eCourses and webinars that you can access from the comfort of your office or home on any electronic device. Some of these offerings also provide you with contact hours for nursing continuing professional development. We add new offerings, such as the new eCourse on the recent changes to ACEN definitions of Program Completion and Program Option, as needed. There are webinars about special topics such as outcomes assessment and the ACEN candidacy process. There is also an eCourse that allows you access to the Standards and Criteria training completed by all peer evaluators! Check out these free offerings here.

In addition to the open access eCourses and webinars, the ACEN offers select virtual learning experiences through ACEN Everywhere. ACEN Everywhere provides access to fee-based eCourses such as “Understanding and Applying the ACEN Standards and Criteria.” These eCourses allow you to learn at your own speed and on your own timetable. You will earn contact hours for nursing continuing professional development, and you can review the content as many times as desired during your access period. Check out ACEN Everywhere here.

Mingle with Marcy, October 2021

MINGLE WITH MARCY: Entering Fall 2021 with nursing in mind 

By Dr. Marcy Stoll, EdD, MSN | CEO | ACEN
October 2021 

When every second counts, nurses are among the many first responders that run toward a need offering their help. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I knew every second counted, and I wanted to help too by volunteering to be a vaccinator. I had an inactive registered professional nurse license in New York and Virginia, and both states reactivated my license quickly. I joined ServGA and the Medical Reserve Corps in my county, and I completed the online training required to be a vaccinator. Then I found out I could not obtain my registered professional nurse license in Georgia because I was not qualified per the board of nursing licensure by endorsement requirements, and as a resident of Georgia I did not qualify for a Georgia emergency temporary permit in response to the emergency declaration issued by the governor.

Accepting “no” is not in my nature. Besides, I really wanted to help and knew I could. So, I volunteered in a non-clinical role to assist with vaccination efforts in my community, and my journey began to obtain my registered professional nurse license in Georgia. I had to enroll in an approved Georgia Board of Nursing RN Re-entry Program and was fortunate to connect with Kristie Washington, the RN Re-entry/CE Coordinator at Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center (AHEC). The RN Re-entry Program, per the Georgia Board of Nursing, is a combination of 40 hours of independent study relevant to nursing, a written examination, and 160 hours of supervised nursing practice.

Another friend in this journey was Diane Durrence, the Chief Nurse/Women’s Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health. I connected with Diane in the early days of setting up vaccination sites when I was trying to find ways for nursing faculty and students in ACEN-accredited nursing programs in Georgia to assist with vaccination efforts in their communities. Diane and her team were instrumental in helping make these connections. Little did I know that I would need Diane’s help making a connection for me personally. I remained steadfast about helping my community, and Diane opened the door for me to complete my clinical hours with the Cobb-Douglas Public Health Department (CDPHD). Thanks to my mentor Dawn Krahwinkle, Deputy Director for CDPHD’s Center for Clinical Services, I spent 40 hours in the childhood/travel immunization clinic, 40 hours in the child health clinic, and 80 hours in the adult health clinic. And finally, I was also able to volunteer as a vaccinator at some CDPHD community events. YIPPEE!

Dawn Krahwinkle (left), Marcy Stoll (right)

I am happy to say I obtained my Georgia multi-state registered professional nurse license. It takes a village to make just one nurse. I can’t offer enough gratitude to my village—everyone at the ACEN for their patience while I was on PTO doing my clinical hours and especially Suzette Farmer, an ACEN Director, whose invaluable guidance helped navigate the New York, Virginia, and Georgia boards of nursing licensing processes and paperwork. Additional appreciation is owed to the staff and nurses at CDPHD. Thank you EVERYONE for your help reaching this goal that found me.

What happens now? I want to serve my community by volunteering at a local community-based organization and participating in mission trips in the future.


Are You Ready for the Hybrid Self-Study Forum Coming this November?

Written by Keri Nunn-Ellison, EdD, MSNEd, RN, CNE, Director at the ACEN

Are you ready for an in-person Self-Study Forum? We are! Still want to tune in from home online? We can do that, too!

Though the ACEN provided an eCourse option for folks to learn about or refresh their understanding of the 2017 ACEN Standards and Criteria, we heard from many of you that you wanted the option to join us in person again. So, we are excited to host our first in-person forum (since March 2020!) in Houston, Texas! Register today, as seating for this forum is limited to ensure the safety of all participants.* In addition to the in-person option, the event will be available virtually for individuals who may not want or be able to travel just yet.

The Self-Study Forum is a great opportunity for program administrators and faculty who are writing an accreditation report, preparing for a site visit, or just wanting to learn more about the Standards and Criteria. During this 1.5-day workshop, the ACEN Directors will review all six ACEN Standards and assist you in gaining a deeper understanding of each Criterion within the Standards, and you will earn 10 nursing continuing professional development contact hours!

The goal of the forum is to support nursing faculty and administrators with their understanding of how they might demonstrate compliance with the Standards and Criteria through the narrative of a written accreditation report and identify examples of potential supporting evidence. Special attention is given to the most common challenges based on ACEN data, including Criteria in Standards 4 and 6. We encourage you to bring your program’s systematic plan of evaluation (SPE) for real-time application of what you are learning! And as usual, this is a great opportunity to network with others as well as get specific questions answered by the ACEN Staff. We hope to see you in Houston!

*The ACEN understands that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. According to our CEO Dr. Marcy Stoll, “We are working closely with the Westin Galleria and formed a partnership to protect the safety of attendees. The hotel agreed to follow all the COVID-19 safety practices/guidelines hotel-wide issued by the CDC or Marriott Corporation, whichever are more restrictive at the time of the event.” Additionally, all in-person attendees must provide proof of being fully vaccinated per the CDC definition and the number of in-person attendees is limited to ensure safe distancing.

All Moved In!

Written by Lori Sharpe, Operations Administrative Assistant at the ACEN

Who moves during a pandemic?

We do! The ACEN moved to our new location, 3390 Peachtree Road Northeast Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30326.

Let’s have a look. Come inside.

No matter what location, the ACEN will always be your supportive partner in nursing education accreditation.

How does our move impact your ACEN-accredited program?

According to ACEN Policy #9 Disclosure of Information About an Accredited Program, your nursing program must have accurate, updated information when citing the ACEN on communications to nursing students, the website, printed materials, on social media. If you have not done so, please be sure to share our new address (only 2 city blocks from the previous address) with your billing department or business office.

Fall 2019‒Spring 2020 ACEN Report to Constituents

Written by Corwyn Bellavich, Operations Manager at the ACEN

Each year, the ACEN strives for data transparency regarding nursing education accreditation program statistics through our Report to Constituents. This allows the ACEN to discuss the accreditation process, share accreditation decisions from that year, and present analysis of data collected from ACEN-accredited programs. With this information, your nursing program should be able to contextualize itself in the greater field of nursing education as a whole. To read the most recent report, click here.

Open Applications for the Conference Program Planning Committee

Written by Greg Donaldson, BA, Editor at the ACEN

The 2021 virtual conference was a success, but it is never too early to start planning for 2022. The Conference Program Planning Committee is always seeking volunteers to plan the next conference, including making decisions related to speakers, presentations, and networking opportunities. Should you find yourself interested in joining this committee, just click on this link to submit a letter of interest and résumé. If you would be more interested in reviewing 2022 conference content as opposed to aiding in planning the overall event, please read here and consider joining the Council of Readers. The deadline to apply for the Conference Program Planning Committee and the Council of Readers is November 15, 2021.

COVID-19: Lessons Learned Today with Implications for Education Tomorrow

Written by Jo Ann Donnenwirth EdD, MSN, CNE and Dianne Gibbs, DNP, RN, CNE

Aultman College of Nursing and Health Sciences is a hospital-based college located in Canton, Ohio. The roots and proud history of Aultman College date back to 1892 with the founding of the Aultman Hospital School of Nursing. Over the past century, the college has undergone local crises, state emergencies, national catastrophes, and epidemics. In March 2020, college leaders were challenged with the COVID-19 pandemic, a public health emergency of international concern.

The college initiated a COVID-19 Task Force to determine the impact this pandemic would have on the college with the focus being the safety and health of students and employees. As a hospital-based college, college representatives participated in planning meetings with Aultman Hospital, Aultman Health Foundation, local health departments, and Ohio Department of Health. The Task Force met several times a week to address the ever-changing environment. Support was provided to academic programs with a focus on those including a direct patient care component. At times information was confusing, as the various individual organizations provided conflicting recommendations. The collaboration between the Task Force and the experts in the field resulted in a plan that was acceptable for all entities involved.

At the College Level

The Fall Convocation consisted of dialogue linking the COVID-19 pandemic to the college mission statement . The convocation academic jigsaw activities consisted of three components. Individual faculty conceived jigsaw activities to provide participants a metaphor through which they could demonstrate learning outcomes and engagement. In addition, each member of our community (students, faculty, and staff) was asked to read Communicating Science in the Time of a Pandemic (Saitz & Schwitzer, 2020). The third activity included viewing a recorded session of the college president, Dr. Jean Paddock, interviewing Dr. Susan Goekler, a public health expert. The jigsaw puzzle was completed during the second week of the semester, when all college employees were invited to a meeting. This moderated conversation encouraged dialogue of their personal perspectives and reporting of student responses. The academic and student support departments worked to determine what would practically be needed in general during the semester to support the mission of leading our community to improved health. It was then that we recognized how the jigsaw fell nicely together.

At the Program Level

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the associate nursing program delivery model consisted of face-to-face courses supported by the learning management system (LMS) and face-to-face clinical experiences. This delivery model was suspended as the program transitioned to a 100% online format with virtual clinical experiences. The instructional designer assisted nursing faculty in converting course content to an online format while virtual clinical products were purchased. The greatest challenge was transitioning nursing laboratory requirements. The nursing faculty were asked to be creative and “think outside the box” while respecting accreditation regulations and requirements. The faculty came up with several creative ideas, including recording a video the sterile dressing change competency. The nursing faculty and administrative team filled manila envelopes with competency supplies (see the table below), which were sent to individual students. The laboratory faculty watched and graded the individual YouTube videos as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. In response, nursing students creatively represented the patients they were caring for. The student pictured below used the face of Danny DeVito for her patient.

Sterile Dressing Change Envelope Contents Includes enough supplies to practice and demonstrate competency
4 pair clean gloves
2 pair of sterile gloves
2 sterile ABD pads
8 sterile 4×4 gauze pads
2 red biohazard bags
1 3 cc syringe (to represent normal saline)
1 role paper tape
1 laminated picture of an abdominal dressing with staples
Sterile dressing change competency checklist
Assignment instructions (due date, video recorded, uploaded to YouTube, nursing uniform and badge required, verbal confirmation of all steps in the competency)
Student Nurse YouTube Video

Statistics in Ohio

During 20 days in July 2020, the Ohio Department of Health and Ohio State University measured the prevalence of current and past COVID-19 cases in a representative sample of 727 Ohio adults. Participants provided a nasopharyngeal swab for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection of current COVID-19 infection, and they provided a blood sample for detection of antibodies indicative of past COVID-19 infection. Using a Bayesian latent class model with multilevel regression and poststratification, the statewide prevalence of current COVID-19 infection was 0.9% (95% credible interval, 0.1% to 2.0%). The statewide prevalence of past COVID-19 infection was 1.5% (95% credible interval, 0.3% to 2.9%).

The findings of this project agree with expectations for prevalence of current and past COVID-19 infection in Ohio and is similar to what has been reported in nearby states. Whereas 0.9% of Ohio adults with current infection and 1.5% with past infection reflect relatively low prevalence, these figures correspond to hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who have contracted COVID-19 during 2020. Community spread is ongoing, and millions remain susceptible. The continued embrace of prevention measures is essential to keeping Ohioans safe.

Transitioning to a “New Normal”

The nursing faculty have continued to improve online learning, better utilize virtual clinical scenarios, and further develop simulation education. In Fall 2020, nursing students returned to campus for laboratory and select clinical experiences. The geriatric, mental health, and pediatric clinical experiences remained virtual. This small, transitional step to a “new normal” was welcomed by students and faculty. The COVID-19 Task Force remained intact, meeting less frequently. As Ohio lifted social distancing requirements and mask mandates, the college made plans for the student body to return to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. The “new normal” included courses offered in a variety of modalities, face-to-face with LMS support, hybrid, and 100% online.

Then, along came the Delta variant. At the time of publication, the college plans to move forward to our “new normal.” However, if the situation should worsen, the college is prepared to return to the COVID-19 delivery model. We are in a better position today knowing what we did in the past worked well. The “new normal” delivery model is ultimately in service of our student’s success and is based on the lessons we learned transitioning to online delivery.

Written by Jo Ann Donnenwirth EdD, MSN, CNE, Dean of Nursing
and Dianne Gibbs, DNP, RN, CNE, Chair of Accreditation and Quality

Innovative Faculty Adjust to Students’ Needs during the Crisis

Written by Dr. Joan Slager, DNP, CNM, FACNM, FAAN

Just as Frontier Nursing University (FNU) teaches its students to understand and address the needs of the communities they serve across the country, the FNU faculty and staff are keenly aware of the needs of our student community. Those needs are ever-changing, never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am incredibly proud of how our faculty and staff acted with tremendous efficiency, professionalism, and care to ensure the best possible outcomes for our students.

As the first wave of COVID-19 grew and spread, FNU began receiving notices from many of our clinical partners that they were either limiting or eliminating clinical rotations for students. By April 24, 2020, 140 clinical organizations had suspended all student rotations and 13 clinical organizations had implemented restrictions but had not suspended all student rotations. Thus, 289 students had rotations impacted by COVID-19 restrictions or cancellations between March and July. Some of our students were about to travel to campus for a skills-intensive session to prepare for clinical rotations.

Some students were abruptly without clinical sites in the middle of their clinical experience, and some could see the finish line, but no longer had the opportunity to complete their final clinical hours. In the DNP program, carefully planned quality improvement projects imploded as patient visits decreased or priorities shifted in the sites.

Faced with these urgent issues, the FNU team rapidly went into problem-solving mode. As President Stone reminded us, with our expanding use of technology to develop and refine a quality education program for students all over the country, while maintaining a sense of community, we have prepared for this for years.

Within a few short weeks, the following programming and policies had been developed:

  • Regional clinical faculty and didactic faculty developed simulated and web-based activities that can be counted as clinical hours, thus allowing progress in clinical courses. Students who have met a minimum of 500 face-to-face clinical hours used these experiences to complete their clinical hours and graduate.
  • Policies allowing telehealth visits in the family nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner, and midwifery programs were approved.
  • The number of telehealth hours permissible in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program was increased.
  • Virtual clinical preparation courses were developed for all programs. Students joined faculty via telecommunication sessions and practiced skills in preparation for clinical.
  • The DNP faculty developed four virtual quality improvement projects, allowing students to continue progress toward their Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.

The efficient and well-planned development and implementation of these measures were vital to our students, many of whom would have had to go on hiatus or even drop out if these options were not available to them.

As the year continued to be challenged by the pandemic, the adjustments that were developed to enable students to continue to progress in their clinical education provided some valuable insight and lessons for the faculty and students. The faculty discovered that some of the skills taught during on-campus clinical sessions could be improved using the technology employed during the virtual clinical bounds. For example, demonstrating suturing techniques on a large display screen was more beneficial than when a single instructor circulated around a room of students practicing this skill. The simulated clinical scenarios that were taught in a virtual environment demonstrated the value of incorporating simulations into the clinical courses to enhance students’ exposure to infrequent clinical presentations or to facilitate evaluation or remediation.

In all tracks, the initial clinical courses were converted to a virtual format taught by a combination of didactic and clinical faculty. Students practiced foundational clinical skills such as taking a patient’s history, critical thinking, and clinical reasoning guided by expert faculty. The feedback from students and their preceptors revealed that students demonstrated more confidence and were better prepared for clinical experiences after completion of the virtual courses. As clinical sites began reopening to students, the tangible evidence that some clinical preparation beyond the one-week intensive clinical-bound week was beneficial led to the development of a hybrid approach to the clinical courses. Currently, all students receive 30‒60 hours of virtual clinical instruction led by faculty in a simulated environment, and the remainder of the hours are fulfilled in the clinical sites.

Prior to the pandemic, the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) students spent about 10% of their clinical time providing care via telehealth. Although discussions about including telehealth in the other program tracks had occurred, no provisions for this had been developed. Many clinical practices rapidly converted to providing some visits via telehealth, which accelerated the development of policies and procedures that allowed students in all tracks to participate in telehealth visits with their preceptors. In the PMHNP program, the utilization of telehealth increased to 70%.

While telehealth as a care delivery modality preceded the pandemic, its utilization has expanded exponentially, especially in rural communities. Recognizing the need to prepare our graduates to deliver care via telehealth, software was purchased that will facilitate the incorporation of simulations into our programs across the curriculum as well as enable us to teach students how to provide healthcare via telehealth.

While many universities struggled with the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, FNU seized the opportunity to adapt, learn, and improve our programs. These examples of flexibility, creativity, and resilience are part of our heritage.

Dr. Joan Slager, DNP, CNM, FACNM, FAAN

Written by Dr. Joan Slager, DNP, CNM, FACNM, FAAN, Dean of Nursing at Frontier Nursing University,

Program Partnership Leads DIY Training Kit for Nursing Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Cara Adney, Marketing & Media Relations Coordinator at Meridian Technology Center

Last year, when students in the practical nursing program at Meridian Technology Center learned there might be more at-home learning in store, Program Coordinator Dolores Cotton, MS, RN relied on innovation that would enable her students to practice their skills, even if they didn’t have access to the school’s laboratories or actual patients.

Innovation is one of Meridian’s six core values. The integration of new ideas with courage is an integral part of the school’s guiding philosophy. Last year as the COVID-19 pandemic loomed on, instructors like Ms. Cotton led the way when they began to develop innovative, alternative learning plans.

Ms. Cotton, a veteran educator and former nurse, knew that the healthcare crisis had the protentional to severely limit her students’ abilities to work in clinical settings to get hands-on experience. Rather than focus on what her students weren’t able to do, Ms. Cotton and her team began to focus on what they could do to ensure students had the skills they needed for the workplace.

“If we ended up having to go virtual, the idea was that the student would already have a training box so they could practice their skills at home,” she explained.

The box, similar in size to a shoebox, was outfitted with a mannequin face, a built-in hole for a tracheostomy, wound care and injection pads, a nasogastric tube insertion area, a female catheter tube area, and an ostomy bag.

The cost associated with providing each student with a tracheostomy tube almost put an end to the project. The cheapest she could find were more than $70 each. Unsure of what to do, she approached her supervisor for direction. Together, they realized that the answer might not be purchasing the tool – it might be in getting it produced in-house.

Meridian Technology Center is a career training center in Stillwater, Oklahoma that provides hands-on training in more than 20 different career areas. One of them is Computer Aided Drafting. Students in this program specialize in the critical link between innovation and product development.

Ms. Cotton provided a sample of the tool she needed, and students went to work on creating a detailed design that could be produced on a 3D printer.

“We took and measured it all out, and we replicated it exactly the way that it was,” described Meridian Computer Aided Drafting instructor Russell Frick. “Through measuring it with micrometers and dicopaltors, we were able to design and print exactly what our nursing students needed.”

CAD students produced 15 tubes, saving the school more than $1,000 on the project. Cotton and Frick agree that the collaboration benefitted students in both programs.

“It was a great project. The students learned quite a bit from it,” Frick said. “The client interaction was something that I really wanted the student to focus on. Communication is just as much of a critical skill needed for this industry as technical knowledge. This was a great exercise in being able to communicate with a prospective client—in this case, it just happened to be the practical nursing Program Coordinator.”

Students at Meridian have returned to in-person training for the 2021‒2022 school year. While the pandemic is far from over, Ms. Cotton said students are still using the DIY skills boxes.

“When students want or need additional skill mastery, they can check out one of these boxes and take it home,” Cotton said. “Now, if we need to transition to virtual learning, we’re set.”

Written by Cara Adney, Marketing & Media Relations Coordinator at Meridian Technology Center

Cara Adney is the Marketing and Media Relations Coordinator at Meridian Technology Center. Meridian Technology Center has been a driver of economic development since 1975. With a mission to educate, enrich lives and secure economic futures, Meridian offers full-time career training programs, short courses, workforce and economic development assistance and entrepreneurial support to residents from the Agra, Carney, Glencoe, Guthrie, Morrison, Mulhall-Orlando, Pawnee, Perkins-Tryon, Perry, and Stillwater school districts. Meridian is one of 29 schools within Oklahoma’s CareerTech system.