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The Future of Nurse Education in the Post-COVID Era

The idea of a “post-COVID” era seemed out of reach when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst. With millions infected globally and tens of thousands of deaths each day, the future felt bleak.

Now that the world is beginning to climb out of the devastation, it’s time to absorb what the healthcare industry learned from COVID-19’s impact. Specifically, industry professionals must address how the pandemic will change nurse education both in form and format.

Could the “Learning Curve” Have Been Avoided?

At the pandemic’s outset, the immediate need for frontline workers was clear. Nurses quickly had to learn how to care for COVID-infected patients, with little information about how the virus spread or affected the human body.

Plus, they had to take extreme measures to protect themselves and their loved ones. While the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE) is covered in nursing training, few imagined they would eventually have to implement those skills day after day — at least to the degree which COVID-19 required.

This situation highlights one gap along the nursing education spectrum. Simply put, the curriculum in nursing education may have become “too comfortable” with its approach. To put this into perspective, no living nurse practiced during the last global pandemic — the Spanish influenza. So, while the COVID-19 pandemic was not on many people’s radar, should it have been?

A Call for Greater Research, Awareness and Education

Nursing professor Sr. Rosemary Donley, SC, Ph.D., ARPN, FAAN and Jacques Laval Chair for Justice for Vulnerable Populations at Duquesne University School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, captured the need for greater research, awareness and education in her recent piece, “Reshaping the Future of Nursing Education.”         

“Today and in the future, nurses, students of nursing and faculty need an in-depth understanding of public health nursing and the epidemiology of infectious diseases,” she said. “Faculty need to reinvest in public health nursing and expand their knowledge beyond the communicable diseases of childhood, immunization schedules and reviews of the health promotion and treatment components of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 or the Ryan-White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Care Act of 1990.”

Why Nurse Leaders Must Have a Permanent Seat at the Table

Some of this forward-thinking for the post-COVID world must begin at the research level. As a novel virus, even the world’s greatest scientists had little information to work with. However, nurse leaders and educators are uniquely poised to be the conduit between science and implementation — but only if they’re valued enough to do so.

“Nurse leaders in this country are exceptionally talented, prepared and skillful but are not always brought to the table,” says Betty Nelson, PhD, RN, dean of the School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Capella University in Minneapolis. “This crisis has brought more nursing leaders to the table; staying at the table is essential for continuing effectiveness, not just a response to the pandemic.”

The Value of a Digital Migration

Another piece to this puzzle is not “what” nurse educators are teaching but how. The demand for online nursing programs has increased over the years, in some cases becoming the standard for educational institutions. However, the pandemic spurred a sudden appreciation — and acceleration — of digital learning.

The digitization of the healthcare field and nursing education has proven beneficial for all parties involved — and it proved particularly helpful during the pandemic. Nurse educators used tools like videos, podcasts, webinars and discussion boards for online learning. Nurses in the field had the opportunity to participate in virtual training, getting critical updates about the virus.

Going forward, remote and virtual learning platforms will likely become more of the “norm.” Students might even be able to fulfill clinical experience requirements using emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — allowing high-fidelity simulations from remote settings.

Nurse Leaders: A Credible Authority for Decisions and Actions

Both the curriculum and mode of education are important for the future of nurse education. But, again, nurse leaders need to be able to voice their opinion about the way nurses move through the training process.

“This is a real opportunity. We have to make sure that we continue to demonstrate the intelligent and effective leadership capabilities of nurses as leaders in healthcare and being seen as a credible authority for decisions and actions. This is not just a nursing problem; it’s a healthcare system problem,” cautions Nelson. “We are the biggest group of healthcare providers, so we can be in a position of leadership in this area.”

Learn more about UTA’s online MSN – Nursing Education program.

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