Georgia Gwinnett College nursing program rallies to graduate nurses as they’re needed most

Pic of nursing student in a flipped classroom

The GGC nursing program uses a “flipped classroom” model – the only nursing program in the state to do so.

If the coronavirus pandemic has shown the world one thing, it’s that nurses are one of the most essential workers. Faculty and administrators in the nursing program at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) have rallied to ensure their students continue their schooling unabated so they can graduate as scheduled and join the fight.

The smooth continuation of classes presented monumental challenges that were overcome by some long hours of creative problem solving, said Dr. Sharon Grason, director of GGC’s nursing program.

“It’s been a challenge but we’ve been able to rise to the occasion,” she said. “We work with fabulous faculty who really care about the students. When we had those two weeks off before transitioning to all-online courses, we were working 12 to 14 hours a day trying to figure out how to best put this together, what tools do we have currently that we can use, and if there were new tools we could use.”

Fortunately, the GGC nursing program has used a “flipped classroom” model since its inception – the only nursing program in the state to do so. The flipped classroom model “flips” the traditional relationship between class time and homework. Students learn at home via online coursework and lectures, and teachers use class time for teacher-guided practice or projects. Since online learning is the backbone of the model, it gave GGC nursing a leg up in the transition to all-online learning in the face of the pandemic.

Having experience with this model since starting nursing at GGC, nursing students already knew how to navigate the software and access information. The nursing program team added a program called Blackboard Collaborate, which the program had already placed in its systems, to use as a means to complete the in-class activities.

That left the particular challenge of replacing the required clinical experience – the 720 hours of hands-on training every student is required to do during the two years it takes to complete the program.

“Prior to COVID-19, we would take them into a hospital and they would take care of patients. For the full two years they would lay hands on all ages - everything from newborn babies up to elderly - some critical, some not critical,” said Grason. “It puts together both the cognitive aspect of nursing with the psychomotor – the doing and manipulating and feeling – using all of the senses.”

Grason and her team tapped into technology that GGC already had available through NurseTim, Inc. and Lippincott Wolters Kluwer. Students had access to virtual simulators that use complex avatars to present them with nursing interventions to apply the nursing process.

Dr. Laura Madden, assistant professor of nursing, said she was immediately impressed at the realism of the virtual simulations.

“They even include obstacles such as call bells going off and the patient's family asking questions, all potentially hazardous distractions when giving medications,” she said. “So far, we have gotten very positive feedback on this from both the students and their clinical instructors. Once their clinical day is over, they also have to use an electronic documentation product that we have been using all along to document their patient from the case study, and complete a concept map and care plan for that patient, another activity that we have been doing even before moving online, so that maintains some normalcy for them.”

Grason said the lack of actual hands-on training has not necessarily been a bad thing for her students. The virtual scenarios are excellent at forcing students to develop their critical thinking, which is the most important skill for being a nurse.

“The piece that they’re missing is the psychomotor - the physical aspect of nursing as opposed to the mental. But the piece that’s most important in nursing is critical thinking,” she said. “We’re thinking this virtual technology is going to really enhance that because we are only focusing on the thinking portion. The physical aspect of nursing is a lot easier to pick up than the mental, so we feel like this might even increase their nursing skills.”

Madden said students have adapted well to the changes for the most part, but every student has a different home life, so there has been a mixture of challenges and emotions for them. She noted that students who have family obligations at home seem to be struggling the most, especially with finding a time and a quiet place to study, and others have expressed anxiety about learning online.

“I find it interesting that the students who have reached out to express fear about this are some of the best students,” said Madden. “They are the ones who are perfectionists anyway and worry that they will not be able to maintain their high standards. I can relate as that is how I feel!”

Dr. Keeta Wilborn, professor of nursing, said she has full confidence the GGC nursing program’s current crop of students will be able to meet the usual high standards and become outstanding nurses in the real world.

“Working with the current group of seniors, I see firsthand their commitment to our profession and their willingness to do the work to not only complete our program but to be successful as nurses,” said Wilborn. “I absolutely believe that each of these seniors will be ready when they graduate to be productive, successful members of the nursing profession. I am truly honored to be part of this last semester with them.”

Grason said she knows the work nurses do is critical, not only during times of crisis, so it’s critical to keep giving students the tools they need to be successful. To that end, her team has performed brilliantly under extraordinary circumstances most people could not have imagined a few short weeks ago – but that didn’t surprise her.

“That old saying, ‘adapt and overcome’ – that’s nursing,” she said. “We have to overcome any obstacle that’s in front of us because that’s what it means to take care of a patient.”
 

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