Now, more than ever, we need skilled and compassionate nurses to take care of people in a variety of different healthcare settings. With an aging population and a shortage of trained medical personnel, it’s important to ensure that the next generation of nurses is ready for anything and can grow professionally. That can be challenging, however, in an online setting.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many in-person classes to shift into an online model very quickly. While it’s good that students are still able to learn while the situation becomes more stable, nurse educators are having to rethink their curriculum and clinical education strategies.
Online learning is convenient, flexible, and will play an important role in getting more nurses into the workforce. With that said, learning in a clinical setting and knowing which mistakes to avoid is crucial for nurses’ success in the workforce. Nurse educators need to understand the challenges of an all-online model and use a variety of resources to overcome them.
The good news is that there are lots of options for online teaching and learning. Nurse educators can create interactive classrooms and access clinical curriculum models to enhance students’ experience, engage them, and help prepare them for a clinical setting. Here are some options for nurse educators leading online programs.
Virtual Telehealth Simulations and Online Case Studies
Telemedicine is a growing sector in healthcare, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because telehealth visits are conducted virtually, they’re perfect for students learning in an online environment. In this case, a clinical setting is already virtual!
Telehealth simulations and online case studies help nursing students learn how to navigate these appointments with real patients. This allows educators to observe them and provide feedback on their performance. Students can also work together in small virtual groups to develop thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.
In a clinical curriculum model online, students can collaborate with other medical professionals and learn from physicians. Students might also have the opportunity to watch patient assessments or even help with these appointments, helping to prepare them for a clinical environment.
Clinical Simulations and Activities
Practice is required for clinical competence. While real-world experience is extremely valuable, simulations can help improve the learning experience for online nursing students. These simulations allow students to practice skills and knowledge safely before they begin working with real patients.
Using real patient stories, nurse educators can create care scenarios for students to work through. Educators can present unique challenges, in addition to the more routine challenges nurses face on a regular basis. This helps to not only build knowledge and confidence but also helps nurses become adaptable and prepared for the demands of caring for patients.
Healthcare is complex and nurses need to have a wide range of competencies to succeed. By creating activity modules to engage and challenge students, nurse educators can help prepare the next generation of nurses for a wide variety of scenarios.
One example would be to create scenarios and activities that confront injustice in healthcare and teach students about the need for nurses to fight for equity and develop cultural competency in order to work with a diverse patient base. Activities might ask students to become advocates and consider the unique challenges affecting vulnerable populations.
In addition to helping students develop applicable skills, activities like these will also help to build more empathy, compassion, and confidence in speaking up when necessary.
Overcoming the Challenges of the Virtual Classroom
While there are lots of wonderful resources available to assist nursing educators in creating virtual, interactive classrooms, it can still be difficult to engage students fully online. Teachers can turn to leadership techniques that have been useful for engaging virtual teams to get students excited and motivated. Some of the top positive leadership styles include:
- Participative Leadership—A “democratic” leadership style that encourages participation, goal-setting, and collaboration. Group work is key in this leadership style.
- Transformative Leadership—Transformative leaders work toward a shared vision and inspire others to be creative and innovative. In the classroom, that might mean setting a big goal and encouraging students to transform their ideas about what it might take to reach the goal.
- Situational Leadership—Adapts to the needs of the individual group and situation. Ideal for teaching nursing students to become adaptable and flexible in their clinical careers.
- Servant Leadership—Many teachers already use this type of leadership, which is known for being all about respect, honesty, and teamwork. It’s about helping those you lead to develop and grow in positive ways, which is what teaching should be all about anyway!
Getting all students involved in discussions and activities is key for a successful virtual classroom. Educators can take advantage of tools like Zoom’s “breakout rooms” to provide small-group settings that promote engagement and greater understanding. Adapting to the virtual classroom can be difficult, but real learning can take place!