A True Test: Training Future Nurses During a Pandemic

You may have heard it said, “when hard times come, notice those who remain, and the ones who disappear.”

Nursing instructors are in a position to see this scenario playing out in the lives of their students at Kent State University at Geauga and the Twinsburg Academic Center.

Many people pursue a career in health care because of ample opportunities to serve others while enjoying steady work, advancement, and good pay. But when a pandemic hits, people on the health care path start to have second thoughts. Is the risk worth the reward?

“Many of our nursing students are already working in the health care field,” says Sanhita Gupta, Ph.D., associate professor of Biological Sciences at Kent State Geauga. “In the midst of this pandemic, some are hesitant and scared; they are undecided about their future goals. Others feel even more commitment now than before the pandemic. Overall, the majority of our nursing students will follow through, although they are facing so many problems.”

Two students in biology lab

Trained as a virologist, Dr. Gupta teaches Basic Microbiology, Human Biology, Biological Foundations, Human Genetics, Life on Planet Earth, and Lab Experiences in Biology. When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, some of her students were very apprehensive about the contagion because of the possibility of potential exposure. Notably, some who were working in health care got sick and had to quarantine, even though they may have had a different infection. Many have experienced fever but have tested negative for COVID-19. The situation has thankfully improved.”

Sharon Ginal, MSN, APRN is an associate lecturer in Nursing Technology. She teaches in the Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (ADN) program at the Twinsburg Academic Center and is the co-advisor of the Alpha Delta Nu Nursing Honor Society of OADN for the campus.

She says that nursing is a challenging profession, even in the best of times. For this reason, she favors a “baptism by fire” teaching philosophy so students are prepared for the rigors of the job.

“Nursing is not an easy career,” Ginal says. “Nurses (especially novice nurses) may be required to work erratic hours, long shifts, holidays, weekends, and mandatory overtime.

“No longer are nurses simply caring, compassionate caregivers. Nurses of today must have an understanding of pharmacology and the physiology of disease processes in order to do their jobs safely. Let’s face it, nurses have to deal with the undesirable aspects of humans… urine, excrement, bleeding, infection, anxiety, and anger, among others.”

Now bring all of this into the context of a pandemic. Ginal says, “All nurses (student or otherwise) must realize that, given the pandemic conditions, we are all responsible for protecting ourselves as much as protecting those to whom we provide care. COVID (or any communicable disease) is no joking matter.”

Consequently, nursing instructors have students practice donning and removing PPE, documenting for isolation, and troubleshooting should they inadvertently come into contact with a COVID-positive patient. Nursing students use PPE with every patient (masks, shields, gloves, and gowns) and limit time spent in most patient encounters. The nursing program also provides guidelines on how to safely return home after clinicals to protect family members and roommates.

While most classroom instruction and some lab work have shifted to remote online settings, nursing students still need face-to-face, hands-on experience in the labs and clinical environments so they can apply and retain concepts they have learned in lectures and readings.

Nursing student practicing skills in lab
“Given this unprecedented and historic time, Kent State Geauga offers a safe learning environment in the real world,” Ginal says. “Students receive world-class instruction and have access to world-class care facilities where they get hands-on experience with a multitude of health conditions, all while adapting to our new — hopefully temporary — normal. Our instructors truly care about our students and the people with whom they are in contact, and I believe that makes Kent State Geauga special and personal.”              

This pandemic has shaken everyone from complacency to high alert. While nurses and other health care workers are rightfully being recognized as frontline heroes in the fight against the virus, Dr. Gupta says that each of us has a role to play in controlling its spread.

“Although we don’t have all the information yet on COVID-19, we do know how this virus is primarily transmitted. This is a highly-contagious upper respiratory/nasal virus, so wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose is a must. It not only protects others from any virus you may be shedding, but it also protects you by limiting the dose of contagion to which you are exposed. Social distancing also protects you from load of the virus. So, limit your exposure time. Chances are, the virus will win if you overload your system. You can harbor this virus unknowingly, so cover your mouth and nose, even if you’re asymptomatic. Wear your mask!”

Hard times don't create heroes. It is during times such as these when the heroes among us — and within us — are revealed.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 23, 2021 07:20 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 02:41 PM
Estelle R. Brown