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By: Milton Mondlane

Dr. Suzy Lockwood’s introduction.

Suzy Lockwood
Dr. Suzy Lockwood (left), a faculty member in TCU Nursing, and a nursing undergraduate student (right) tour a university health care simulation facility during a study abroad course in Santiago, Chile.

She came to TCU as a faculty member in 1997, completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at TCU in 1983. Suzy is the current Associate Dean for Nursing & Nurse Anesthesia and Director of the Center for Oncology Education & Research Director. In her capacity, Lockwood oversees all components of academic affairs for the TCU Nursing unit, and also teach courses at the undergraduate and doctoral levels.

TCU Nursing’s adaptability to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nursing graduate-level courses have always been offered online since the first program began in the mid- 2000s. This familiarity with teaching online prepared our professors to address the pedagogical difficulties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, all Nursing and Nurse Anesthesia exams have been computer-based and administered online for more than five years. Consequently, most of our faculty were well prepared to adjust to remote instruction, especially at the graduate level. For undergraduate students, the adjustment was different but our faculty who were used to using TCU’s online learning management system found ways to be innovative. Undergraduate students were able to demonstrate knowledge acquisition in creative ways that although different than pre-COVID still allowed them to show clinical judgment and the ability to perform nursing skills required for clinical practice.

The most significant changes revolved around clinical/practicum instruction. Nursing students at all levels are required to complete a significant amount of hands-on clinical experience in various health care settings. When the pandemic began, students could no longer go to hospitals or even engage in simulated experiences in the Health Professionals Learning Center at TCU. However, with the guidance of nursing faculty and the support of TCU Nursing leadership, students were given access to multiple computer-based technology and programs that permitted them to continue their learning during the spring semester of 2020. Our professors were also very resourceful, coming to campus to demonstrate simulations and record material for students. I am delighted with our faculty and students. They went above and beyond!

Now post-COVID, faculty and students are happy to be back on campus and in the clinical settings – but faculty are still using some of the successful and innovative teaching methods that were critical to student learning during the pandemic.

Cultivating academic excellence and evidence-based practices under E-learning conditions.

As I mentioned, for the last five years, our faculty have been administering exams online. So, they have been ahead of the game when it comes to academic honesty. Of course, the testing that takes place in all of the nursing programs tends to be high stakes. With access to Zoom, video monitoring, and lock-down browsers, we have continued the examination procedures/ processes without significant issues. Our professors are master teachers and understand the value of test integrity and design that will provide all students with an opportunity and environment to demonstrate their grasp and understanding of the material. As we are preparing members of the future workforce, we also instill in our students a strong commitment to the code of ethics which they will be practicing under.

Navigating institutional changes amid uncertain times.

Providing 100% instruction online required a waiver from the governor and our accrediting body. One of the initial problems was an understanding of the short-term and long-term impact of the pandemic. When we reached the end of the spring semester of 2020, these waivers were about to expire, and COVID-19 was still rampant. Thankfully, the governor and our various accrediting bodies extended them. From a clinical instruction perspective, our students were also allowed to return to our clinical sites beginning in June 2020, and with TCU’s support and understanding of the required instruction of health professionals we were fully on campus by the beginning of the 2020 fall semester.

One area that remains challenging is clinical instruction in the pediatric setting. This limitation was due to their vulnerability of course. Hence, the faculty relied on filming, case studies, and simulations. Their efforts merit our applause; student learning especially in this area was not e ever reduced and in this post-pandemic world we have continued to use these innovations, especially for student learning about the pediatric population.

Nevertheless, when it comes to nursing, remote or online instruction does not do justice to the experiences our students will face when they join the labor force. This reality highlights the importance of our rapid return to in-person training. On the other side, our students gained many of the “soft” critical nursing skills. Nurses must be flexible in unpredictable conditions, and the COVID-19 pandemic helped our students develop the confidence to thrive in very overwhelming environments.

It is also reassuring to know that hospitals are adapting to students who graduated during the pandemic (December 2020 or May 2021). They are providing additional instruction and learning experiences during orientation for graduate nurses to ensure they are indeed prepared to provide safe, quality care.

Immediate and long-term challenges to TCU Nursing posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are bad and good things that came out of the pandemic. For example, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students had experiences that reinforced their protective equipment usage. Alternatively, because people are using masks and washing hands, the flu season has not been as adverse as we know it can be.

More students were prepared for class and became more intentional about their studies. Moreover, and this is fundamental, faculty and students have an even better appreciation and understanding of population health and disaster preparedness and the vital role that nurses play in protecting our communities. This is truly a profession of respect and trust. All over the country and the world, our nurses have had experiences that we could never imagine before the pandemic.

On the other hand, the death toll is breathtaking. Likewise, we are seeing that many nurses in the workforce are leaving. A primary driver in this has been a direct result of the pandemic and the toll it has exacted on their mental health. These have been very exhausting times.

Telehealth nursing potential and COVID-19 as an impetus.

Our graduate curricula already included telehealth, and we are reshaping the undergraduate curricula to introduce it to our students. Telehealth is reshaping the health industry, and we want our students to get the experience before they graduate. In undergraduate simulation courses, students can discover the value of virtual communication.