Teaching and Nursing in a Pandemic
By: Shellye Vardaman, PhD, RN-BC, CNE
Board of Commissioners Member, ACEN
What a year 2020 has been thus far! The year 2020 was designated the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization (WHO) to honor the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale. Who would have ever dreamt this year would have lived up to all that nurses have had to face just in the first half of 2020? The lessons that Florence taught us are ever so true… the importance of handwashing, fresh air, sterile surfaces, and infection control. As a nurse educator beginning my 20th academic year this fall, this year will be like no other. Masks are required just to walk from the car to the building. Plexiglas barriers are installed throughout the buildings. Handwashing stations are set up throughout hallways. Students are living what we preach in our fundamental nursing courses.
In addition to my role as a nurse educator, I also work as an ICU nurse in our local hospital. Clinical practice allows me to “practice what I preach” so to speak. One course of interest at this time is epidemiology. In addition to teaching students these nursing principles, I continue to care for our local community. This brings me face-to-face with COVID-19. The experience of working with patients suffering from this horrible disease and the grueling requirements placed on healthcare providers has provided me with empathy for my graduate students who are also working alongside COVID-19 patients. I understand the struggles that my students face when they are working long hours and trying their best to continue their studies.
I, too, have realized the emotional rollercoaster of COVID-19. As a practicing nurse, am I going to potentially bring this virus into my household? I have had to delay trips to see parents who are undergoing cancer treatment and cancel my annual beach trip. However, in this “new normal” in which we are living, it is ever important to follow our guidelines whether it be wearing a mask to the grocery store, avoiding crowds, or even engaging in distance education. It seems that our hospitals have new guidelines to follow almost weekly as new information emerges regarding this novel virus. Colleges and universities are also met with new guidelines as schools attempt to reopen amidst the pandemic. Schools of nursing have accreditation and board of nursing challenges that must also be met. Fortunately, both the ACEN and boards of nursing have been understanding of the challenges faced by schools of nursing, and they have allowed flexibility in the ways clinical and classroom teaching are done.
As we try to adapt to the “new normal,” whatever it may end up being, we must remember to always care for one another. Caring is what led me to go into nursing, and through nursing education I feel that I am advocating for patients by caring for the future of the nursing profession. Remember that as clinicians and as nurse educators, we lead by example. Our patients and our students are watching us. We are the best role models especially in times of crisis. Let’s finish the Year of Nurse in a way that would make Florence Nightingale proud!