By Lois Thomson
A month after Cindy L. Munro assumed the presidency of the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Three hurricane seasons later, South Florida is plunged into another type of storm: the COVID-19 pandemic. But the idea of a pandemic did not take Dean Munro by surprise. As he said, “nurses have been at the forefront of pandemics throughout our 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 epidemic of polio of the 1940s and 1950s. So as a profession we have been dealing with this problem for a long time. “
COVID-19, however, presented a different set of challenges. Dean Munro explained that the school needed to rapidly evolve from being a face-to-face oriented educational program in the spring, to one that needed to turn to distance learning. “I think the biggest challenge for us has been making sure students continue to have high quality clinical education and high quality experiences in their learning about how to actually care for patients. And we have been quite creative in meeting them with challenges. . “
He said the school purchased and designed virtual clinical programs and the Simulation Hospital for Advancing Research and Education (SHARETM) also played a key role in addressing the challenges. Dean Munro said the simulation hospital in particular brought in small groups of students where they were able to safely practice decision-making tasks and prepare their skills for face-to-face clinical meetings.
Dean Munro said that enrollment in the summer program has been “incredibly strong” and attributes in part to those who see the effects of the pandemic, as well as issues related to racial inequality. “Nursing is a profession that addresses both of these things, so we’ve seen very strong applications and very strong enrollments.” He said the school usually accepts 85 new students each summer, but this year it accepted 119. “We were embarrassed by the wealth of the students. It’s a much larger group than we have taken in the past, but the students they wanted to be here, and we feel compelled to keep that pipeline of high quality nursing services full. ” He added that registrations are completely full for the fall as well.
He said the University of Miami is committed to providing face-to-face education in the fall for those students who want to return to campus. While some nursing courses will offer online classes, students will need to be on-site to get their clinical experience or hospital simulation experiences.
Despite COVID-19, Dean Munro said the school didn’t need to add new courses to its programs because much of the pandemic-related content is already in the curriculum. “In the past we have run pandemic simulations in the simulation hospital; and the first parts of college nursing involve infection control and the use of personal protective equipment. All of these form the foundation of the profession. take care of this for a long time. “
However, pandemics aren’t the only thing on nurses’ minds. In non-pandemic times, students can travel to Latin America and the Caribbean and perform clinic hours and provide health care during mission trips. Dean Munro said it helps them understand the problems of people who are not originally from this country, people who come from a different background. “It gives them sensitivity, in a way that truly makes their nursing more appropriate and effective. Nursing has always been linked to social justice and to view each individual with respect and dignity.”
He went on to say, “Our students are thrilled to be here, thrilled to be nurses and public health officials. And they are entering the profession at a time when the need is great – great not only because we have a shortage of nurses, but also because there is so much work to be done in the midst of the pandemic and 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 Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday (May 12, 1820). “It happened at the same time that we have a global pandemic, and at the same time there is such heightened attention to inequities in our society. It’s quite powerful.” Just like the nurses themselves.