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Nursing Students Take Unorthodox Approach Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Becoming a nurse requires time, patience, and endless clinical hours. And although it’s a difficult process for all, earning degrees amid a global pandemic has been an unexpected and tough challenge for Penn State’s nursing students.

Nursing students still needed to fill clinical hour requirements amid the pandemic. To do so, they utilized vSim, a virtual nursing simulation that helps students “develop clinical reasoning skills, competence, and confidence” in the comfort of their own homes.

“We still had our daily two, three-hour Zoom meetings for our classes, but our clinicals were virtual,” Kasey Foichetta said. “Virtual clinicals were difficult to adjust to because we weren’t face-to-face with patients and didn’t have other resources like our clinical instructors, other nurses, and doctors around to help guide us. Although virtual simulations didn’t allow me to practice certain skills such as placing catheters and removing IVs, it challenged me and forced me to think on my own.”

While the face-to-face interaction was understandably lost, coursework continued undisrupted thanks to professors’ hard work and some creative Zoom features.

“Despite this major change, I feel as if we still had the same resources for most of my classes, just minus the face-to-face communication,” Kamryn Hubeny said. “My nursing professors held class on Zoom and encouraged everyone to participate whether that be in the chatbox, talking freely, or answering clicker questions in the form of a Zoom poll.”

Although navigating remote learning amid a global pandemic was challenging, it helped students like Fiochetta gain a newfound sense of confidence. She added working on her own helped build faith in herself without professors looking over her shoulder.

All nursing majors still needed to study and complete syllabus material while learning the importance of being in the public health field during a global pandemic. Students connected some typical course material to the coronavirus to better understand the illness.

“When learning about upper respiratory infections in pathophysiology, we were able to talk extensively about coronavirus and learn about that,” Hubeny said.

Returning home for the rest of the semester also meant looking for any physical experience a student could find. With a rapidly increasing number of cases across the country, hospitals began accepting help in numerous departments. Students also needed to adapt to changing hospital guidelines and enforce these parameters for their own and their patients’ safety.

“The coronavirus has changed how we operate at Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey tremendously,” Hubeny said. “On the mother-baby floor itself, there are no visitors allowed, only the mother and father were upstairs on the floor. The parents are not allowed to leave their rooms and the babies remain in the rooms instead of staying in the nursery.

“We do get some mothers that have coronavirus on the floor. If they have coronavirus, there are signs hung up outside their doors making sure everyone knows that patient is on contact and droplet precautions. Also, every mother is tested for the virus on admission and every baby is tested 24 hours after birth.”

Luckily, some students found jobs prior to the pandemic and jumped right in upon returning home. These students, along with all other hospital employees, also needed to comply with strict coronavirus guidelines to protect themselves and their patients.

“This summer, I am a patient care assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital,” senior Sam Spanos said. “I work on a RACU floor and a COVID floor. Due to the virus we are required to answer a survey before each shift stating whether or not we have any symptoms. If we do, we are not allowed to go to work at all. If not, we must show our pass to the security once entering the hospital and will then be handed a mask.”

A shortage of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) is still an issue in some areas. Some students are entering the hospitals with a lack of protection or need to repeatedly use the same mask.

“There is proper PPE available for when entering a patient’s room with [the coronavirus],” Spanos said. “However, due to the lack of N-95 masks, we have to wear the same one during each shift.”

During these times, these students also must manage their lives outside of the hospital and the added stress of studying public health in the middle of a global crisis. Understandably, it can take a toll on their mental health.

“I think that it has been very restricting and emotionally stressful as I cannot see my grandparents or friends who I used to see everyday,” Hubeny said. “I am more cautious about who I see as I could easily be a carrier and show no symptoms since I am so young and work in the hospital.”

While nurses and health care workers continue fighting on the frontlines, students are taking note. They hope to put these lessons to use when they launch their careers in the coming years.

“As a future nurse, I’ve watched and learned how my profession has led in this moment,” said Fiochetta. “From the bedside and beyond, I hope to show the same leadership, bravery, and compassion the nurses before me have shown.”

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About the Author

Hope Damato

Hope is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and is one of Onward State's social media editors. She resides in Northern Virginia but likes to tell people she's from D.C. since no ones heard of Manassas. She considers herself a coffee expert, obsessive Eagles fan and likes long walks on the beach. Feel free to follow her on twitter @hopemarinaa to send her funny tweets or email her at [email protected] to yell at her.

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