With the increased demand for nurses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Community College-Grand Island is continuing to educate nursing students to meet the need.
Shari Mueggenberg, nursing instructor at CCC-Grand Island, said the two-year nursing program currently has 38 students in the first year of the program. She said, despite the pandemic, CCC students appear to be interested in nursing as the program is full at all of CCC’s campuses and there is a waiting list to join.
Mueggenberg said the pandemic has changed how nursing courses are taught at CCC because they have had to shift to a “hybrid” model, with lectures online and clinicals in person.
“It is hard to teach nursing online because it is such a hands-on skill,” she said. “So we are really doing a lot of new and innovative techniques to teach our students and give them opportunities where they can learn.”
Mueggenberg said she and her fellow CCC nursing instructors try to stay current with what is happening in the medical field. Subsequently, CCC nursing students are learning about how to respond to COVID-19 situations.
“We teach the students (about) the protective equipment that they’ll need,” she said. “We teach them the risks and signs of symptoms of the patients. When we are in the lab, we can simulate a COVID patient crashing.”
In the simulation lab, Mueggenberg said, nursing students are placed in real-life scenarios with a mannequin that has a heartbeat, breathes and even talks. She said the mannequin could be dealing with COVID-19, cardiac arrest, or may be a pediatric patient, which exposes students to a variety of patient scenarios.
She said the nursing students also learn to care for real-life patients at CHI Health St. Francis.
“The hospitals have been very cooperative with us coming in and helping them,” Mueggenberg said. “We actually just finished a whole semester of clinicals where we actually got to work with the COVID patients up on the floors. You might have a patient who has pneumonia, tests negative for COVID and then comes back the next day and tests positive for COVID. So they get to see that firsthand.”
She said being able to be in a hospital, seeing nurses care for patients in the midst of the pandemic, opens the students’ eyes to how serious COVID-19 can be.
“They see the nurses working five to six shifts in a row,” Mueggenberg said. “They also see how long it takes to get on the PPE suit to get into a COVID room because of the isolation; it takes five to 10 minutes to get that suit on. If someone is crashing and going into respiratory arrest, they see how urgently that person has to get in to help and the teamwork that is involved. It is a collaborative effort at the hospital and it takes everybody to take care of patients.”
She said she feels that having CCC nursing students put in real-life situations right away better prepares them for a nursing career. She said this differs from other colleges’ nursing programs as CCC gets students in the simulation lab or in the hospital setting “right away in that first semester.”
Morgan White, a CCC nursing student from Grand Island, said an essential part of being a nurse is actually being in a health care setting and seeing what goes on in it.
“It is beneficial to see what goes on in the hospital,” White said. “We actually are not allowed to take COVID patients ourselves, but we have been on the COVID floor (at CHI Health St. Francis), so we do see what goes on and how sick people can get; a lot of people do not understand that.”
As part of her coursework, she said, she learned about how to put on personal protective equipment and the different types of disease transmission, which will be critical to her when she enters the nursing field upon graduation next May.
“It really emphasizes the infection control part of it, not just with COVID, but with every possible illness,” White said. “I think it is going to change things for not only respiratory illnesses, but all illnesses that require precautions, like personal protective equipment, and how important that is.”
With COVID-19 case numbers increasing in central Nebraska, Mueggenberg said, nurses are stressed and are experiencing compassion fatigue. CCC realizes this and teaches nursing students about comfort and compassion.
“We just need to remind each other to take a deep breath, slow down and take a break if they need to. But also, sometimes it is just being there for someone and listening to them vent,” she said. “We have pre-conference and post-conference to debrief. That debriefing is an emotional time for these students because they say, ‘I worked with this patient, they had this and I cried with them.’
“It is OK to cry with your patient and to show emotion. We teach the students not to hold it in and that it is good to express their feelings and to share that with each other.”
White said that while people have asked her how she can continue with a career in nursing given the current situation with COVID-19, she feels nurses are important and needed at this time.
“It has not deterred me at all, though, which I think is a good thing,” she said. “I am going to go right into this. I do not think this (COVID-19) is going away any time soon, unfortunately, so it will probably still be a major part of what health care professionals are going to have to deal with when I go into nursing myself.”