By Regan Murr
The spread of COVID-19 has had a dramatic effect across the globe and, most noticeably, on the medical field. Nurses stand on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus, often at great personal risk, as they struggle to combat the pandemic. This outbreak, coupled with an ongoing nursing shortage in the United States, has profoundly impacted the environment that future nursing students must confront after they graduate. At the University of Mary Hardin- Baylor, students in the nursing program face having to adapt to many changes in learning methods and class structures, while also preparing for their future careers in a profession that continues to face unique challenges.
Molly Radar, a senior nursing student at the university, plans to work in pediatrics after her graduation next spring. She describes the transition to CRUflex classes this semester as “cool, but…wild and weird.”
“It’s crazy that I will be starting a job, maybe, during a global pandemic,” said Radar. “It’s kind of terrifying.”
At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted, perhaps more than ever, the need for more nurses in the workforce. According to the American Nurses Association, there is projected to be far more nursing jobs available as compared to any other profession in 2022. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1.1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2022 to replace retirees and to avoid a continued shortage.
When asked whether or not she was concerned about her future career during COVID-19, senior nursing student Sarah Hughes said:
“No, because we’re needed.”
Hughes also stated that she felt ready to enter the profession.
“As nurses, we’re going to be dealing with a whole lot of infectious stuff all the time,” Hughes said. “This is just a new infectious disease that we have to deal with.”
Nursing schools may also be facing dramatic fluctuations in applications due to COVID-19. According to Ilana Kowarski’s article in U.S. News and World Report , “How coronavirus affects nursing school admissions,” universities such as Villanova in Pennsylvania and Regis College in Massachusetts, have witnessed an increase in nursing school applications, which may be due to the pandemic.
Still, it is possible that safety concerns may result in fewer applicants to nursing schools across the board, according to Kowarski’s article. Only time will fully reveal the effect the coronavirus has had on college nursing programs and the medical field as a whole.
Associate Professor Dr. Christi Emerson, who has fifteen years of experience teaching in the UMHB nursing program, addressed these concerns. While safety may cause parents and students to hesitate to pursue a nursing career, Emerson also cites how the need for nurses may draw in more students to the nursing program.
“There may be people who see the great need for nurses because of the COVID pandemic,” said Emerson. “And they may have a real desire to attain a nursing degree…and serve their community.”
Emerson also expressed her belief that UMHB’s safety measures would allow students to feel more secure on campus.
“Knowing that Mary Hardin-Baylor has made such an effort to keep…everyone on campus safe, I think it would be less of a deterrent [coming to campus] than in other places.”
In order to follow social distancing and minimize the possibility of spreading COVID-19, the UMHB nursing program has cut down on the usual three-hour, in-person lectures. Now, students have been divided into seven groups of about fourteen with each group spending around forty-five minutes in the classroom. The rest of the lessons are then continued in an online format. Clinicals, which provide field experience for nursing students, remain a part of the curriculum, though in a carefully controlled fashion.
Radar wonders if she might have felt more prepared when she graduated prior to COVID-19’s effect on education, but said that she felt the nursing program was doing its best in adapting to new learning methods.
“It’s much better now,” said Hughes when comparing the previous spring semester that was suddenly interrupted by the coronavirus, to the present semester.
“We just got our clinicals so – super excited about that.”
As the nursing program continues to adapt to fluctuating conditions while training nurses, these changes also present opportunities for the future of the program.
“Crisis breeds innovation,” Emerson said. “We’re adapting…and we continue to see what’s working well and what we can improve on.”
Emerson stated that learning new strategies has broadened the faculty’s skillsets as educators, while leading to the adoption of new strategies. Further reflection on the present semester may lead to some changes in the structure of the nursing program’s approach to education for the future..
“I like the CRUfllex,” said Radar. Because of the flexibility of CRUflex, Radar said that she felt more prepared now that she had additional time to study in the mornings.
As the UMHB nursing school continues to develop its COVID-19 strategy, nursing students continue to see the value of their training, especially in light of the current crisis.
“It’s hard,” said Hughes when commenting on studying nursing now. “[But] it’s worth it.”