When whispers of a virus an ocean away began to take root early last year, Heather Casper-Mclay never in a million years imagined the effect it would have on her and her students — as well as the role she would play in it — when it hit Sioux Falls. In an ironic twist, the pandemic arrived just as the “Year of the Nurse” was being celebrated.
“Never before had the importance of nurses been highlighted in such a drastic way,” said Casper-Mclay, an adult nurse practitioner and instructor at the University of South Dakota’s Sioux Falls campus. “Our program’s values, vision and mission stood strong against what the pandemic threw at us. We have always highlighted the importance of professional identity and evidence-based practice, but as the year went on, we realized even more how these components combine to not only provide nurses of the highest caliber but ones who possess a keen sense of the art of nursing.”
Nursing with empathy
Caring for a patient medically is essential, but showing empathy to that patient throughout the process makes all the difference. The ability to sit with a patient, hold their hand when no other visitor can, Facetime with a patient’s family during the last breath, cheer and celebrate when another miraculously recovers and is able to leave the hospital.
“There’s always been that perception out there that nurses carry out the provider’s orders. Period,” Casper-Mclay said. “But now I think the public realizes we do have autonomy and are a vital piece to the health care team. In terms of COVID, for example, picking up on the slightest change in a patient’s condition can make a huge difference in treatment and diagnosis on a minute-to-minute basis, a critical component to the overall care and outcome.”
So, yes, Casper-Mclay said, the “Year of the Nurse” coupled with the pandemic has resulted in a greater respect for what nurses do, what their days look like and what they endure to do their job. Bruised faces from constant mask wearing, exhaustion from the intensity and stress from daily interactions with very ill patients is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nursing curriculum adds focus on pandemic care
Casper-Mclay, who spends half her time in the classroom, said the virus permeated the curriculum, providing real-world pandemic scenarios. A new, virtual clinical focused on pandemics and long-term care clinics, even provides discussion prompts about what students experienced in their communities this past year. As more research is conducted on COVID-19, Casper-Mclay said there will likely be infection modules added to the program that would focus on the virus, its treatment and more.
Another plus is that Casper-Mclay is able to share stories from her experiences at the hospital, creating a nice link between practice and education.
Learning to transition into telemedicine
Students are also taking deep dives into telemedicine and learning how to provide virtual care, something Casper-Mclay said will only increase in the future, especially for those patients with immune-compromised systems and mobility issues. And even though most of her patients enjoy face-time with their providers, some of them have admitted to her that telemedicine will definitely come in handy during a blizzard
“Our curriculum and our work with patients in the hospital continues to evolve to reflect the real world,” Casper-Mclay said. “Our students, along with the public, have a greater understanding now of what is expected from a nurse and USD is working hard to provide them with the tools and skill set to become successful in an ever-changing environment, pandemic or no pandemic.”
While things are not quite back to normal, Casper-Mclay said the nurses and students have taken a small breath of relief.
“We have been part of a pandemic team this past year. It certainly hasn’t been easy, working with patients during fragile moments,” she said. “But we celebrate the wins — for those who could go home and for our students who have marvelously prevailed. Why? Because humans are resilient.”