While Frontier Nursing University (FNU) has been using a distance education model for more than thirty years, it has always relied on critical in-person sessions of training and fellowship to nurture student success. When COVID-19 began to pose a severe threat in the United States, FNU leadership knew they needed to find a way to keep students safe, while still providing quality education. Now more than ever, the country realizes the value of qualified nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives, and FNU is committed to increasing the number of dedicated individuals heading out to the frontlines. To maintain this commitment, Frontier had to make significant adjustments to some of these foundational sessions, including Frontier Bound, Clinical Bound, and the clinical experience.
When FNU realized the need to redesign Frontier Bound and Clinical Bound sessions, a lot needed to be considered. Both sessions are usually held at the Kentucky campus and allow for time to learn and connect with one another. Frontier Bound is a three-day introduction into the program, while Clinical Bound is a five-day clinical skill-intensive with hands-on training. How could FNU effectively hold these sessions without face-to-face interaction?
FNU faculty quickly began developing a new plan to create a digital format for the sessions, which would still promote community and provide quality education. By expanding the use of Zoom and other video technology, they were still able to benefit from the engagement of face-to-face communications without health risks. Leadership has been pleasantly surprised to find that the new session format has allowed for the same sense of community and renewed inspiration that students and faculty have always looked forward to at these events. Students are reporting positive feedback for session content while still feeling connected and supported.
Some of the specific changes made in the transition to an online format for Frontier Bound included taking extra time to invest in discussions of student concerns in the wake of COVID-19, conducting team-building activities, and assisting students with internet troubleshooting. Small breakout groups were especially helpful in ensuring an intimate setting in the distance environment.
Considering that FNU Clinical Bound sessions are built around hands-on skill-building activities, reworking the program required a lot of dedication as faculty members attempted to produce equivalent training for students. What resulted is a whole new Clinical Bound program designed around online simulations and student reenactments delivered through Zoom meetings. Before the experience began, FNU shipped supplies to each student, such as a suture pad and perineum model. These supplies allowed Clinical Bound Faculty to teach practical skills such as hand placement for birth and suturing. Because students had their own simulation tools, faculty could watch them do return demonstrations. These demonstrations were assessed and graded by faculty when students submitted physical assessment validation videos. Despite all of the changes, FNU educators have continued to see quality work from adaptive students. Notably, FNU’s clinical preceptors rated the students who attended virtual Clinical Bound sessions with very little difference in performance compared to students who had participated in on-site Clinical Bound sessions.
Following Clinical Bound, the next step in a student’s journey is working alongside a preceptor during their clinical practicum. Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19, many of Frontier’s clinical sites have been unable to accept students over the past few months. For FNU leadership, translating this aspect of the student experience was undoubtedly the most challenging. However, after weeks of brainstorming and development, Frontier’s dynamic faculty created an equivalent and innovative program to fill this gap.
FNU successfully built a Virtual Clinical Simulations program for displaced clinical students. The program’s state-of-the-art simulation design provides virtual, lifelike scenarios for students. Some topics addressed include: taking patient history, handling pregnancy concerns during the wake of COVID-19, breastfeeding, and postpartum issues. Much like the Clinical Bound training, leadership is receiving positive feedback from students and staff as knowledgeable, confident, new nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives emerge from the program. This type of educational experience replaced 135 hours of the then-minimum requirement of 675 hours of on-site clinical experience during the first months of the Pandemic. This dramatically decreased the stress for FNU’s clinical site placement during this critical period as they adjusted to the demands of the Pandemic. Due to the positive response to these simulated clinical experiences, Frontier will continue to supplement in-person clinical with a selected simulated clinical time that is led by FNU faculty.
Although the Frontier community can’t wait to all unite in in-person fellowship again, we rest easy in the meantime, knowing our students, faculty, and staff continue to exceed expectations in adaptability, kindness, and comprehension.
View this special issue of the FNU Quarterly Bulletin, which focuses on how the FNU community has answered the call to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic.