Educating Nurses Under COVID-19

June 29, 2020

The Covid-19 outbreak has prompted an international response involving thousands of healthcare workers around the world.  Throwing a curveball not just to epidemiologists but also to physicians and nurses, it has stretched healthcare systems in most countries to its limits. As these systems struggle to care for a wave of affected patients, those with teaching responsibilities face the added challenge of balancing the educational needs and safety of trainees with those of delivering patient care. In responding to this dire and unprecedented crisis, nurses have found themselves at the centre of the pandemic response and prevention efforts. How have response efforts in clinical and education settings in nursing schools been planned to deal with this unexpected outbreak? How have nurses dealt with the psychological distress that accompanies such a crisis? How can simulation technology help in times of a pandemic? These were some of the questions that were discussed during the webinar organized by Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai in collaboration with the Columbia School of Nursing on April 30, 2020.

Professor Lorraine Frazier, Dean, Columbia School of Nursing, opened the webinar by describing the active role of the School of Nursing in addressing both the immediate and long-term challenges related to the novel coronavirus outbreak. She acknowledged the School’s early detection and effective strategic planning and preparedness efforts in dealing with the pandemic and identified its strong graduate programs, well-informed faculty and students, and an established academic-practice partnership as the strength of the School. As a part of the response efforts, Dean Frazier also mentioned the School’s approach towards simulation-based clinical learning and patient evaluation techniques, offsite education programs, and strategically planned alternate education methods as key elements to overcoming the challenges of a changed clinical and education format. 

Under levels of unprecedented stress, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen nurses staffing hospitals and clinics pulling long shifts, wrestling with trauma and exhaustion, and putting themselves at risk of infection to care for people in need. Professor Jennifer Dohrn, Assistant Dean, Office of Global Initiatives, spoke about Circles of Care, an initiative by the Columbia School of Nursing designed with the aim of creating an environment of healing, fostering resilience, and minimizing burn-out and long-term trauma among nursing professionals during the pandemic. Speaking from her experience, Professor Dohrn emphasized the importance of such circles as a coping mechanism in pandemic response efforts, recognizing the work of nurses by their peers and thus supporting healthcare workers that suffer from psychological distress caused due to a lack of recognition and healing in their fight against this pandemic.  

Professor Kellie Bryant, Executive Director for the Center of Simulation Learning, presented the different approaches undertaken by the Columbia School of Nursing in clinical practice as well as in nursing education as part of their efforts toward dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and its huge burden on resources has called for coordinated action across many areas of the healthcare system including staffing, hospital management, diagnostic capabilities, nursing and medical treatment, infection control, and hygiene skills compliance. Reallocating resources, training nursing students for the role of nurse educators, screening high-risk patients for symptoms of Covid-19, and using simulation technology to test newer Covid-19 protocols were some of the clinical measures that Professor Bryant spoke about. With nursing education taking an online turn during this unexpected pandemic, she also presented the different teaching strategies that the School implemented through the use of simulation technology to upskill the workforce and optimize work systems as a part of pandemic preparedness and response efforts. 

Challenges such as limited humanpower, heightened risk of contagion from coronavirus, occupational burnout, and social stigma faced by the nursing workforce were recognized during the webinar. Given the seriousness and unprecedented nature of the situation, common solutions that emerged from the discussion included integrating pandemic planning into the fabric of nursing education, working in solidarity with healthcare workers, and bolstering the use of online resources and simulation technology to enable effective patient care. The webinar saw active participation from audiences across the globe and provided some key learnings to build a robust healthcare system to cope with a pandemic by strengthening the clinical and educational aspects of nursing curricula.