By Nancy H. Wagner
Inaugural James P. Tressel Endowed Chair in Leadership,
Professor and Director of the Centofanti School of Nursing,
Youngstown State University
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – More than 90 YSU nursing students walked across the stage at the recent May commencement, moving from the student to professional nurse role.
What awaits them is a myriad of hospital and health care employers that need registered nurses to fill that important role in their facilities alongside to help their passionate yet fatigued frontline staff. These graduates will help to transform and improve health as they care for individuals, families and communities. They are in high demand.
The daunting COVID-19 pandemic showed us that, like the professional nurses who were caring for very ill patients, our graduates were committed and resilient. Most of their education occurred during the pandemic. Even though some continued on with trepidation, none of them dropped out during this challenging time.
COVID-19 changed the way we provided nursing education. Yet, as faculty, we were aware that our expected outcomes needed to be met.
In March 2020, as the world shut down and universities and hospitals closed their doors to students, not only did we have to hold our classes online, but we also had to reconfigure our clinical experiences in a novel effective way. For two months, our faculty raised the bar on creativity, offering students online virtual simulations with avatars, challenging scenarios and questions to increase clinical judgment. We created lab kits so required skills could be completed at home.
In August 2020, with masks, face shields and personal protective equipment, our students and faculty were able to re-enter hospitals and community agencies for clinical experiences. Caring for patients during a pandemic added to their passion for nursing.
In response to their clinicals during COVID-19, the students offered these observations:
“Nursing is not easy on a normal day, but we need to protect our patients. It’s my calling,” said one student.
Another said, “This setback called COVID not only prepared me for crisis but aided my learning significantly.”
And a third student said, “I was concerned that my entire class was missing a very crucial component of nursing school: caring for patients in nursing homes. However, I saw the benefits of starting out in a hospital setting as well. Caring for COVID patients allowed me to feel like I was making a difference.”
Our students and faculty filled the roles of prevention and mitigation of the virus. In collaboration with the Youngstown City Health District, nursing students at all levels administered over 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines to YSU students, faculty, staff and families. The students were excited about their role in prevention and realized that effective communication and remaining calm were necessary skills during this time.
Another mitigation strategy was the development of a mock COVID-19 drive-thru testing experience. A nursing faculty-student group created drive-thru stations in a YSU parking lot that simulated positive and negative testing scenarios to prepare students for this needed intervention.
Our resilient YSU Centofanti School of Nursing faculty and staff were committed to providing a quality nursing education for our students and special ceremonial celebrations. When an in-person commencement was canceled in May 2020, our faculty arranged for a drive-thru medallion ceremony for our senior BSN students. This celebrated the completion of their rigorous nursing program and the birthday of Florence Nightingale, an early leader in nursing education. The faculty also drove to each graduate’s home to place a YSU Nursing congratulatory yard sign.
Looking back to the early days of the pandemic, we worked hard to meet our calling by learning new strategies while supporting our students. As a top nursing school, the YSU Centofanti School of Nursing remains committed to improving the health of our community by educating exceptional nurses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.