For Regan Luken, if there is a silver lining to the pandemic rollercoaster of the year we have just experienced, it will include the manner in which we avoid the spread of disease, engage with our health care system and focus on our own mental health and well-being.
More specifically, Luken, who is Director of Student Services at the University of South Dakota’s Vermillion campus, said this redefined “normal” will more than likely translate into the continued use of masks and copious amounts of hand sanitizer, the enduring awareness of social distancing, as well as an increase in telehealth care, an uptick in technology usage, and a mindful approach to combatting stress and anxiety.
“This is the most extreme circumstance we’ve seen in our lifetime and just talking about how it has affected our health and well-being, as well as our health care delivery system, is something we will all face in the coming months,” Luken said. “Pre-pandemic, patient safety was always our number one concern, but after this past year, I think there are some practices we should ask ourselves ‘why not continue?’ We have a personal responsibility to each other to keep ourselves and our community safe.”
Luken oversees the education of nearly 68 nursing students each semester, and she remembers the exact moment in March 2020 when the pandemic suddenly became very real. Spring Break had just started. She was in her office when a colleague came in and said everyone was to begin working from home immediately.
“Naturally, we had been watching the situation for the past couple of weeks, trying to rationalize it and thinking, will it really be that bad? And you know, we didn’t blink,” she said. “We have phenomenal leadership here. We’ve been preparing for a global pandemic for years, including holding multiple disaster preparedness drills, so we just stayed positive and supportive and rose to the challenge, knowing what we had to accomplish in just a few short days before students returned to class in whatever capacity that would be. Obviously, it was stressful, but we realized, this is the situation and we just have to roll with it. That’s what nurses do.”
Within two days, university leaders had established multiple Covid-related task forces across the various departments as they worked through the logistics of switching from in-person to virtual learning. Zoom became the lifeline as the kinks were ironed out. From a nursing standpoint, switching to virtual clinical classes was the most challenging for all involved, as students were still required to accumulate the same number of accredited hours, pandemic or no pandemic.
“The most rewarding aspect of this journey is that we were able to continue delivering a good solid education to our students, transitioning to a virtual environment with just only a few bumps along the way,” Luken said. “We never dropped the ball. We are here to serve our students and that’s exactly what we did.”
During fall of 2020, Luken said students had the option to return to class, albeit with stringent safety and social distancing protocols in place. And now, with the advent of the vaccine, a new normal is taking root.
“I believe we’ll still have Zoom and divided classrooms for a bit longer, but the biggest stride moving forward is that people aren’t getting sick every day,” Luken said. “And that’s a sigh of relief.”
Another bright spot on the horizon.