When COVID-19 first hit universities, it left a lot of us suddenly without footing. Campuses closed pretty much overnight, and many of us were left with Zoom conference calls, unreturned library books, and a foreign way of doing everything.
How weird to think back on all that!
The tips below require some preparation and a dash of self-discipline. I hope they help you continue acing all your classes, whether online, in person, or both.
Nursing School During COVID-19: Where Do We Stand?
For nursing students, the disruption caused by campus closures went a little bit deeper. The practical component of our program is critical, but in many places, hospitals became no-go zones. At the same time, the looming nursing shortage made it impossible to close nursing schools.
This is why nursing schools were forced to find their way back into semi-normality much more quickly than other degrees.
Online clinical simulations
The first solution provided by many nursing schools was to move all classes online and to replace clinicals with online simulations. These had been used before to help students prepare for in-person clinicals, but they made for a poor replacement.
As of writing, this option has now largely been abandoned for the 2021-2022 academic year.
If you lived in an area with low transmission rates or where everything stayed mainly under control, you might have been able to resume fully in-person classes quickly. Many universities are already back to business as usual for the current academic year, but future spikes can still make you return to Zoom School for a few weeks.
Hybrid or blended programs
Hybrid nursing programs moved all their theory components (lectures) online but resumed clinical rotations and labs as quickly as possible. At first, this return was meant to be temporary. However, many schools (mine included) have decided that this blended method works well and will stick with it indefinitely.
Undoubtedly, it has a lot of perks, although most of them are for the school:
- It helps them save money on classroom allocations
- It keeps a possible outbreak contained if it happens
- It has helped them with faculty retention, because some of our older faculty members are more willing to stick around for another year if they can stay home.
On our (the student’s) side, things may be less rosy – but at the very least, I am thankful for all the time I don’t have to spend commuting!
So what do you need to make a hybrid nursing program as close to reality as an in-person one? First, you will need to manage your time wisely. Then, you may need to come up with a few ways to compensate for the initial lack of socializing and networking. These approaches will all help you make the most of the experience.
Keeping track of all your deadlines and upcoming quizzes during nursing school was never an easy task. When your lectures are all virtual, you may also miss some of the usual cues to direct you towards the library. There will be no “corridor talk” to remind you about anything, and it will be up to you to organize your review sessions.
Invest a few minutes at the start of term to get your ducks in a row. If you have a calendar or planner app, use it. If you don’t, get one that can sync automatically between your smartphone and desktop.
After each of your first lessons, add all major quizzes, papers, and assignments to your calendar. Set reminders for them one week and three days before the actual due date. This is a tedious task that I always put off, but it’s better to stay on top of it.
Set up visual cues around your workspace
At the start of each week, you should also arrange visual reminders of the urgent tasks you have for that week, which could be a significant skill check-off with your preceptor or just a reminder to sanitize your gear or talk to a classmate.
Personally, I like to use a chalkboard for this. I place it right behind my computer screen, so I only need to look up to see it.
Set up hard starting and ending times
It can be tough to buckle down for a study session when you are home for the entire day. House chores, snacks, and pets can turn 8 a.m. into 10:30 a.m.
Get ahead of this problem by setting up an exact time to be ready to study.
This time should find you with your Facebook closed, (perhaps) good music on, and a pen in your hand!
You should also pre-determine how long you want to spend on each chapter or section and at what time you should “close up shop” for the day. Once your brain is tired enough, you won’t learn anything more.
Use the Pomodoro technique
If you need to study several subjects simultaneously, use the Pomodoro technique to distribute your time and prevent burnout. This technique divides time into periods of 25 minutes each, separated by 5-minute-long “short breaks.” Every four Pomodoros, reward yourself with a 20-minute “long break,” and then change subjects. (If this timing doesn’t work for you, you can change it to match your needs – but keeping the idea of focused study and timed breaks is really helpful for a successful study session.)
Socializing and Networking
All university or college experiences (and, by extension, nursing school) are as much about learning as they are about community. This is perhaps the most challenging part of online learning.
Making friends within your program can be quite challenging if all you know of them are little squares on a video calling app. But don’t let that deter you: nursing school often creates long-standing friendships and invaluable career connections. So what can you do instead?
Make the most of clinicals and labs
Most schools send students to each clinical site in smaller groups, known as cohorts or “batches.” Often, this cohort will accompany you throughout school, across all your rotations.
This is a great “in-person” pool with whom to start building connections, but it’s not the only one!
Whenever you have to go on campus for a lab or a simulation, be ready to befriend your bench partners.
These may not be such a consistent group as your clinical crew, so make sure to get their contact info from the start.
Make sure you keep note of your lab bench partners’ study habits, too: even if you sit somewhere else next time, you’ll want to know who is reliable and who isn’t. When the time comes to choose group members for a project, you will know who to ask first.
Reach out to group members
Nowadays, the go-to method to coordinate group projects seems to be either WhatsApp or Telegram. These groups tend to be smaller and much more intimate than class or cohort groups.
Don’t limit the conversation to “strictly business”: when the workload gets too overwhelming, you can be pretty sure that they will be feeling the pressure as well. Take the initiative and invite them over for a non-study hangout – and make sure to check on them after the final grades are up!
Reconnect with your off-campus friends
Finally, it helps to have time to decompress and have fun whenever your schedule allows it. Nursing school has a way of overtaking your entire life. Your off-campus friends will keep you reconnected with regular life and remind you that there is a world outside healthcare.
Make sure you schedule something with your non-medical friends (even remotely) and do not talk about anything bowel related.
Getting a Quality Experience
The final piece of the puzzle deals with your lecturers and faculty members. There’s a good chance that they are having an even harder time adjusting to online learning. Still, make sure you don’t get lost among the sea of names they no longer recognize.
Your options here will vary depending on the type of platform your school uses. Some strategies include:
- Message your lecturers after class directly
- Overcome the anxiety and participate in class more than you usually would
- Complete your profile on your online portal
- If you have access to their profiles or pictures, make sure to say hi when you see them at the hospital
If you are attending nursing school during COVID-19, you may not have as easy access to simulation labs as you usually would. Outbreaks or case spikes may restrict the number of people at the lab or force you to spend more time sanitizing. This means you will need to get a bit creative when practicing your manual skills.
Pork loins are great for practicing stitches and IV insertions. And if the Thanksgiving turkey falls to you this year, just keep in mind that injecting it with flavor is not so different from an intramuscular shot.
Will This Last Forever?
That will be up to your school! Likely, more and more classes will progressively return to face-to-face lectures during the coming academic year. Some topics are just more suited for online delivery than others. Meanwhile, the ability to coordinate, get together, and present via Zoom will probably be here to stay.
Either way, nursing school will not be forever. The core of your program will always happen at the hospital, delivering hands-on care for patients.
Ximena is a copywriter and medical interpreter turned Nursing student. She feels very strongly about patient education and about opening healthcare access among women from immigrant and rural communities. During her downtime, she enjoys jogging, RPG gaming, and reading about classical history.