Meet the A team.
With more than 103 years of nursing experience between them, Erica Larson, Traci Barnable, Jean Yockey and Tamara Keefner, proved a formidable force in working with University of South Dakota staff and clinical partners to adapt to the changes wrought by the pandemic’s daunting realities.
Educating 300-400 nurses during any given year is an arduous and labor-intensive process. But throw in a worldwide pandemic and, suddenly, normal is no longer “the norm.”
“Every single person has been impacted in so many different ways by this pandemic. And whenever a barrier such as this creeps up on us, we have to figure out a way over it,” said Larson, a nursing instructor. “And that’s what we did. Yes, it definitely made things more difficult for our students but it also taught them how to become a better version of themselves by having to work through one of the most difficult times in their lives.”
Quality education in non-traditional settings
For Barnable, a clinical experiences director, and Yockey, assistant professor at the Vermillion campus, the pandemic unveiled the creativity of the USD staff and the speed at which it could develop and simulate a virtual nursing program without losing a beat.
“We literally catapulted the program into total remote learning within a week,” Yockey said.
Real-time, face-to-face interactions plummeted as Zoom became the new calling card. Hundreds of mandatory clinical hours pivoted to virtual simulations.
Forced to vacate the campus last spring, the students found themselves living back home with parents and siblings, confronted with studying and Zooming from crowded living rooms, bedrooms and backyards. Kinks and offbeat quirks quickly surfaced. Pets and siblings made unexpected appearances on screen. Yockey said one student taking a proctored exam in a bedroom was interrupted by her grandmother asking if she wanted any of the chocolate chip cookies she had just baked.
In more rural areas where internet is not widely available, students had to become very adept at finding a connection — some often driving miles to find the highest elevated area and using their phone as a hotspot — they could take their monitored exams from inside their cars. Many others had to confront time zone issues when calling in. Others suffered the loss of campus jobs. Some became caretakers for relatives who came down with COVID.
“And through all of this,” Yockey said, “the students proved their own levels of resiliency, flexibility and creativity.”
A safe return with an emphasis on well-being
While some on-campus learning has since resumed, group activities are still prohibited, and social distancing and mask wearing are still required. Keefner said the students’ health and well-being remains top-of-mind, with staff reminding them to get outdoors, take breaks, hike, get a massage, visit a friend — anything to restore mental calm.
“Our three campus locations and our clinical partners have always worked closely together,” Yockey said, “but the pandemic has brought us even closer in terms of developing and providing an excellent program for the students. One of the biggest takeaways is we now have new tools in our toolbox to give the students the best education possible in this higher-risk environment.”
Barnable said the USD pandemic task force continues to meet to ensure guidelines are adhered to with regard to program content and student safety.
“Part of the post-traumatic growth principle is that humans can be changed by challenges,” Larson said. “What can we take out of this and how do we persevere? Our hope is to continue to elevate the level of care our students give to their patients and what they do in their communities. Basically, how can we help our students transform the world around them?”
With these four gamechangers involved, the possibilities are endless.