What It’s Like To Be In Nursing School During A Pandemic

Posted: October 27, 2020


Pictured above from left to right are UK College of Nursing students Maddy Yohn, Julia Way. and Lauren Smith. 

The below article appeared on Oct. 14, 2020, in the Wake-Up Call, a daily newsletter distributed by Katie Couric.  

As the country continues to reconfigure a new normal amidst a global pandemic and calls for racial equality, higher learning institutions are entering uncharted territory. So what’s it like to be on or off-campus right now? KCM gets the scoop from college students, themselves…

Julia Way, a junior at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, didn’t expect to be learning how to insert a catheter from home — but being a nursing student during a pandemic required some creativity from students and professors. Now she’s more motivated than ever to enter the healthcare field.

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In March, when the University of Kentucky decided we would not be returning to campus from spring break, the solution was to hold classes over Zoom. But, as a nursing student, Zoom couldn’t exactly solve all my problems. Hands-on learning is at the center of the nursing curriculum. How was I going to take classes from my childhood home in California — over 2000 miles away and in a different time zone? Was I still going to graduate on time without clinical experience in the hospital?

In the spring, I was supposed to be learning how to start IVs and catheter insertions, and thankfully, our professors found creative ways for us to learn the skills at home. To learn how to insert a catheter, I used a Dunkin Donuts coffee lid to simulate the patient, a plastic straw as the catheter, wrapping paper as sterile packaging, and dishwashing gloves as sterile gloves. Our classes covering nursing fundamentals and pathopharmacology, the study of drug treatments, were held over Zoom. Every week, we would break down clinical scenarios with our nursing instructors to simulate real-life patient situations.

But, no matter how creative our professors could be, nothing can replace in-person experience. As aspiring nurses, we missed out on two and a half months in the hospital practicing crucial skills including inserting IVs, catheters, and interacting with patients. It was concerning to think about everything we were missing out on, such as the hospital experience, in-person exams, study time with peers, face-to-face learning, and demonstrations. As the semester came to a close, many of my peers and I questioned what life would look like come Fall 2020 and I think it’s safe to say that we never imagined the pandemic still ongoing.

Towards the end of summer, the University of Kentucky announced that students would be allowed to return to campus for the 2020–2021 school year and classes would be in-person, virtual, or hybrid, depending on the specific college and professor. Dorm buildings, sorority houses, libraries, and dining halls would be open and would require social distancing and masks at all times. The College of Nursing decided that our classes would rotate between in-person and online, depending on our specific comfort levels. Every Wednesday at 6:45 am, I walk to UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A with my scrubs, mask, and protective glasses, for my shift on the med-surgical floor. As students, we are not allowed in Covid-19 patients’ rooms and we follow all precautionary measures including consistent hand-washing, PPE, university-enforced periodic Covid-19 testing, and two screenings before entering the hospital. The first screening is the university-wide “Daily 4.0” questionnaire that asks about possible exposure, potential symptoms, and an agreement to follow precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing, while the second screening, which I complete on Wednesday mornings, ensures the hospital that I’m abiding by precautionary measures. Our professors have done a wonderful job checking in with the students, and if someone is exposed to Covid-19, or contracts the virus, they’re able to access material virtually or make up hours another time.

I am now approaching my ninth week at the hospital for clinical and I’ve learned more than I ever expected. I meet patients on the floor that are in their most vulnerable moments of life. On a med-surgical floor, you see all kinds of situations, including organ failure, severe trauma from accidents, fractures, and even psychiatric disorders. Each nurse I have worked with has so much wisdom to share after working in the hospital during this unprecedented time. I’m so inspired and motivated as I see them continue to put the patients’ needs before their own.

The University of Kentucky College of Nursing and my clinical instructor, Lisa Thompson, have given me time to practice skills I couldn’t learn in person last semester and ensured that I have plenty of learning opportunities in front of me. After eight weeks on my hospital floor and one twelve-hour shift in the Emergency Department, I feel confident as I walk into a patient’s room. I know how to properly administer medication, and the Dunkin Donuts cup training luckily worked — I have successfully inserted my first catheter and started my first IV! Navigating nursing school through a pandemic has reinforced why I wanted to go into the medical field and taught me to capitalize on every opportunity as a learning moment.

My only hope is that the University of Kentucky students and the city of Lexington continue to follow public health guidelines to make sure future nurses have their chance to learn in person.