Nursing education after COVID will rely more on technology and digital tools than ever. Simulation and online learning will be part and parcel of the curriculum for nursing students. It will also be more competency-based as the new AACN Essentials further integrate into nursing curriculums.
But what about the content of the curriculum?
Nursing education, according to Mary Dolansky, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Sarah C. Hirsh Professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing and Director, QSEN Institute at the school, may include instruction on telehealth, an emphasis on systems thinking, stress on leadership, and a focus on innovation and design thinking.
A Look at Nursing Education After COVID
Understanding how to use telehealth in nursing is key, according to Dolansky. The Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, developed a series of four modules on telehealth so that all students received a basic foundation in telehealth nursing, including telehealth presence. It included teaching on using Zoom or the phone to assess and evaluate patients. She notes that interactive products that give students a feel for how such interactions occur and practice them can provide an excellent education.
Another aspect of post-COVID nursing education involves systems thinking, says Dolansky. This involves “really getting students to think beyond one-to-one patient care delivery and about populations. We need to create more curricula for nurses out in primary care sites and nurses out in the community, and that has not been a strong emphasis in schools of nursing. Instead, we focus mainly on acute care.”
More specifically, students should learn, for instance, how to use data registries to look at areas of patient need. One COVID example, notes Dolansky, would be to use registries to identify long-term COVID patients. Another could be to use a registry or database to discover what patients have followed up on their chronic disease since, during COVID, many patients stopped visiting healthcare providers.
In the post-COVID curriculum, developing leadership skills may become more critical. “What we observed in the COVID crisis,” says Dolansky, “was an opportunity for nurses to stand up and speak out more. We were the ones at the frontline and had the potential to be more innovative and responsive. Many great nurses did step up and speak up, but we need to ensure that every nurse can speak up for patients in future crises or even advocate for our patients now. Nurses can be the biggest advocates for patients.”
Every school of nursing probably has a leadership course, Dolansky notes. But ensuring that there are case studies from COVID as to how nurses did stand up and speak out and how that made a difference would be a fundamental curriculum change.
“We want to prepare our students that you will be a leader and you will be on TV talking about how you are innovating and adapting to the changing needs of the health of our population. And COVID was a great example for that.”
Post-COVID, nursing education needs to help students with innovation and design thinking, notes Dolansky. Over the past 10 years with QSEN, “what we’re trying to advocate is shifting the lens of a nurse from direct patient care delivery, which has been the focus of nursing, to shifting a little bit to systems thinking.”
Critical thinking, notes Dolansky, focuses on making decisions for an individual patient. Design thinking and innovation are more about “looking at the system in which we work and empowering the nurses to fix the systems. This is key to quality and safety, but it’s also key to the need for our nurses to contribute strongly to the health of the future population. They have to be at the table to respond to these crises. We need them to have the skill set of being a leader, standing up, being at the table and when they’re at the table, having ideas, being creative, and knowing how to test them. And having the technical skills to use the technology is probably where most of the solutions will be for the future.”
QSEN and Competencies
With the latest AACN Essentials, there is a drive for competencies in nursing education, notes Dolansky. The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education, approved by the AACN in April 2021, calls for a transition to competency-based education focusing on entry-level and advanced nursing practice.
While revising the Essentials began before the pandemic, the experiences and learnings from the pandemic greatly impacted the work, notes a recent article in Academic Medicine. As a result, the Essentials includes population health competencies that specifically address disaster and pandemic response and will better prepare the next generation of nurses to respond safely in future events, the article says.
Now, a crosswalk has developed between QSEN competency statements and the 2021 AACN Essential Statements, notes Dolansky. However, she notes that the AACN is taking the QSEN foundation and moving it forward, stating to the public that “the nursing profession has these competencies that are providing safe quality care to the public.” Since 2012, the QSEN effort has been based on the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
“Own Their Competency”
In the culture of nursing education, students now need to be educated to “own their competency,” says Dolansky. “Students will see that competency development is part of their lifelong professional development.
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