Nursing Students Prepare For ‘Uncharted Area’ Upon Graduation

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ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – Today’s nurses are finding themselves saddled with responsibilities that were not part of their education.

Pandemic preparation “has not really been part of the core curriculum,” said University of Rochester nursing school dean Kathy Rideout.

Still, Rideout said, skills like teamwork and problem-solving that are key to navigating any unfamiliar situation — including the COVID-19 pandemic — have long been a part of nursing education.

Danette Niles, a nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital, agreed.

“Focusing on what’s in front of you, and getting to know your patients are some of the biggest things we do” to provide consistent care through an “uncharted area,” she said.

Niles said visitor restrictions mean nurses are now scheduling virtual family gatherings for their patients.

“Helping them see their families, making sure we’re scheduling times for Zoom and FaceTime meetings — that’s never been a part of our day,” Niles said. “Now, we’re in a position where we have to make that a part of our days.”

Niles said it’s not only family contact that has to be limited. She said nurses have to minimize their exposure to patients, too.

“It has been challenging, because nurses, it’s in their nature to want to be with patients as they go through their hospitalization,” she said.

Current nursing students are preparing to meet that world through a revised class structure, said Rideout.

“We’re really front-loading all of the classroom content” for the summer term, she said. Clinical work will mostly begin later in the summer.

The aim, said Rideout, is to decrease the amount of patient contact that students have at the height of the epidemic. Waiting for the summer decreases the risk, she said.

Kathy Rideout is the dean of the University of Rochester’s nursing school. CREDIT MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS

UR’s nursing school, like many other education institutions, has largely switched to remote learning. Still, Rideout said, there are some parts of nursing training that can’t be done virtually.

She said clinical training is still necessary, but she expects elements of the remote learning to be part of nursing curricula even after the pandemic ends.

URMC said last week that it is furloughing nearly 3,500 employees, either reducing or eliminating their hours to offset lost revenues from the pandemic. The medical center said front-line nurses are not part of the cuts, and recent nursing school graduates who have been offered jobs will not lose them in the furloughs.