*Public Health orders have changed since the time the interviews for the article took place; Public Health orders discussed in this article may no longer be accurate. Please click here to access up-to-date public health orders in the province of BC*
Mid-March 2020, everything around us came to an abrupt halt. Post-secondary institutions adjusted as well as they could to allow students to continue learning online. Every faculty felt the pains of change and UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing was no different. But, with the hands-on requirements of nursing school and approximately 600 undergraduate nursing students enrolled at UBCO, the School of Nursing faced unique challenges when it came to adjusting the program to the COVID-19 guidelines. The Phoenix reached out to the School of Nursing and UBCO nursing students themselves to learn more about their transition to online learning.
Annika, a first-year nursing student, when asked how she felt when the pandemic started, replied: “I was very unsure of what the world was going to be like when the pandemic was announced. Which caused some anxiety initially, but I learned how to be kind and patient with myself when living in a world of great unknown”. The anxiety she felt did not stop her from starting at UBCO in September 2020 with about 150 new first-year nursing students. These enrollment numbers are on par with previous years which shows that COVID-19 has not impacted the number of applications UBCO has received to the school of Nursing. "We have had a very large number of applicants," said Jackie Denison, RN, MSN, the Assistant Director School of Nursing and Associate Professor of Teaching.
The Phoenix asked Annika if her experiences in the first year have matched her expectations; she replied, “Nursing school during COVID is not what I expected it would be at all. I am learning how to implement skills in a lab, which I attend once a week with full PPE, which is not at all what I anticipated. I only see my classmates in person during my clinical or lab days, but behind a mask, face shield, and 6 feet away from one another.”
Annika explained that although the experiences have not been as she expected, she has taken the lessons and internalized them as patience, kindness, and an understanding that we cannot fix things beyond our control. Annika added that she believes learning nursing during a pandemic will make her a better Nurse, hoping that “it will allow me to have an elevated understanding and compassion towards the patients I am working with in the future”.
So what was the COVID-19 transition like for students who were already enrolled in nursing at UBCO prior to March 2020? Third-year nursing student, who has asked to be referred to as ‘C’, said, “Well, I knew that there was going to be a lot of changes. In the beginning, we weren't really allowed to go into practice or anything. So, a lot of students, including myself, had to be pulled from practice, and we missed a couple of last days of our clinical, but it made me also really proud to be part of nursing, you know, right now we need so many nurses to help combat COVID-19”.
Although students had to be pulled from their clinical practice, as Jackie Denison explained, not all clinical practice was lost as the students completed a lot pre-COVID. “Each year had kind of a different approach, so we sort of prioritized keeping the year four students that are closer to graduating longer and less so for our year one/ year two students, but all of the clinical teams came together and created virtual learning opportunities, so students were still experiencing clinical but just in a virtual way.”
Virtual clinical has now changed back to in person. The school did not place first years in long-term care homes as they usually are but have been placed within less vulnerable populations and in smaller groups. “We've had students this year placed in hospice in year one, and that’s been very well received,” Jackie Denison said, “and that’s not somewhere we typically have used in year one. We've had students in rehab units in hospitals and what we call sub-acute units, so the acuity is just not as high as some of the other medical-surgical units that students go on in years two to four.”
Labs have also changed for the students. The school added an extra lab room to allow for social distancing and smaller class sizes. The pre-lab seminar is held online to prepare students for their lab. Students are then directed to arrive at school for their lab and leave immediately after. As Jackie Denison put it, “No loitering, no study groups, just lab and leave.”
Having to change so much so quickly is an enormous scope of work. When The Phoenix asked Jackie Denison how the transition went overall, she replied that it "was overall very successful and that the students had very little interruption in their learning or their abilities to meet the learning outcomes.”
By no means trying to take away from that success, ‘C’, who was asked by their peers to address the Phoenix, explains that not everything is working well. Their concern is the asynchronous lab seminars. C explained that “with the asynchronous, it's pretty much just reading word for word what's already up there for us. And then, when we go into the lab, we haven't really had a chance to look at the equipment prior. So, everything's new to us, and it's only like a two-hour lab.” The lab is where students practice skills for procedures such as Tracheostomy suctioning, for example.
C said that having the lab seminar live and over zoom would make a world of difference, saying, “I think it would just help a lot more if we had an actual seminar portion where we can be more engaged in the theoretical learning…having the entire course asynchronous is really difficult just to keep ourselves accountable… we have a lot of courses and a lot of the time we have like exams that come up in the middle of the week and we kind of feel like we have to take more of a priority for those exams than we can for the asynchronous seminar portion”.
When asked if any changes were here to stay, Jackie Denison said that they are exploring the idea of some theory courses remaining online. On another note, a positive change that is occurring in the School of Nursing, not related to COVID, is that they are now admitting International Students.