South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday September 30, 2020

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September 2020 - Volume 17 - Issue 3


Nurses at Forefront of Pandemics

A month after Cindy L. Munro took over as dean at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, Hurricane Irma struck Florida. Three hurricane seasons later, South Florida is immersed in another type of storm – the COVID-19 pandemic. But the idea of a pandemic has not taken Dean Munro by surprise. As she said, "Nurses have been at forefront of pandemics for our whole history. If you look at the United States in the 1700s, smallpox was the most prevalent pandemic. We went from smallpox to yellow fever, and then to the polio epidemic of the '40s and '50s. So as a profession we've dealt with this problem for a long time."

COVID-19, however, has presented a different set of challenges. Dean Munro explained that the school had to quickly evolve from being a face-to-face oriented educational program in the spring, to one that had to turn to remote learning. "I think the biggest challenge for us has been making sure the students continue to have high-quality clinical education, and high-quality experiences in their learning about how to actually take care of patients. And we've been pretty creative in meeting those challenges."
She said the school purchased and designed virtual clinical programs, and the school's Simulation Hospital for Advancing Research and Education (S.H.A.R.E.TM) has also played a key role in meeting challenges. Dean Munro said the simulation hospital in particular brought small groups of students in where they were able to safely practice decision-making activities and get their skill sets ready for the face-to-face clinical encounters.
Dean Munro said summer program enrollment was "incredibly strong," and credits it partly to people seeing the effects of the pandemic, as well as issues related to racial inequities. "Nursing is a profession that addresses both of those things, so we have seen very strong applications and very strong enrollment." She said the school usually accepts 85 new students every summer, but this year accepted 119. "We had an embarrassment of student riches. That's a much larger group than we've taken in the past, but the students wanted to be here, and we feel an obligation to keep that pipeline of high-quality nursing services filled." She added that enrollments are completely full for fall as well.
She said the University of Miami has a commitment to providing face-to-face education in the fall for those students who want to return to campus. While some nursing courses will offer lectures online, the students will have to be on-site to do their clinical experience or simulation hospital experiences.
Despite COVID-19, Dean Munro said the school had no need to add any new courses to its programs, because much of the content related to the pandemic is already in the curriculum. "In the past we have run pandemic simulations in the simulation hospital; and early parts of undergraduate nursing involve infection control and the use of personal protective equipment. All of those make up the bedrock of the profession. Nurses have been dealing with this for a very long time."
However, pandemics aren't the only thing on the minds of nurses. In non-pandemic times, students are permitted to go to Latin America and the Caribbean and do clinical hours and provide health care on mission trips. Dean Munro said it helps them to understand issues of people who are not native to this country, people who come from a different background. "It gives them sensitivity, in a way that really makes their nursing care more appropriate and more effective. Nursing has always been connected to social justice, and to viewing each individual with respect and dignity."
She went on to say, "Our students are excited about being here, excited about being nurses and public health officials. And they're coming into the profession at a time when the need is large – large not only because we have a nursing shortage, but also because there's so much work to be done in the middle of the pandemic and the middle of racial injustices. This is the perfect opportunity for nurses and public health officials to make a difference."
In what Dean Munro called "an interesting confluence of events," the year 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse, in honor of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820). "It happened at the same time that we have a global pandemic, and at the same time there's such a heightened attention to inequities in our society. It's pretty powerful." Just like the nurses themselves.

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