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MSU College of Nursing adapts, innovates in response to COVID-19



Montana State University nursing faculty Kristin Davis instructs clinical coursework with students from her home via the internet Friday, April 3, 2020. PHOTO BY KELLY GORHAM


BOZEMAN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has created rapid and unprecedented changes nationwide, and in response Montana State University’s College of Nursing has adapted, transitioning all classes, including clinical classes, to remote delivery and creating an intensive online learning module for its students focused on COVID-19.

The COVID-19 module teaches students about the new coronavirus and care of patients affected by COVID-19, according to MSU College of Nursing Dean Sarah Shannon.

“We wanted all of our students to be knowledgeable and prepared to face this unprecedented public health crisis,” Shannon said. “As more is learned about the novel coronavirus and associated illness, COVID-19, our students will need to keep learning.  But with the urgency of the situation, we wanted every student to have a solid foundation of knowledge about the pandemic immediately.” 

Shannon said the module covers the epidemiology, physiological responses, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of COVID-19. It also covers topics such as the history of pandemics, basic infection control, public health strategies for reducing contagion, effective use of personal protective equipment, how the coronavirus affects different clinical settings or populations, and ethical decision-making during a pandemic.

Shannon and Susan Raph, MSU College of Nursing associate dean for academic affairs, developed the learning module during MSU’s spring break in mid-March. All nursing students pursuing bachelor’s degrees were then required to complete it by March 27.

Sally Moyce, assistant professor of nursing, described the module as thoughtful and beneficial, both for students and faculty.

“The module was complete, informative and timely,” Moyce said. “It is a terrific example of a self-paced, professional learning module.”

MSU College of Nursing faculty also worked quickly over spring break to convert all courses – including clinical and simulation courses that are normally performed in the college’s simulation labs and with partner organizations such as hospitals – to an online or virtual environment. Remote delivery of all courses began March 23, Shannon said.

Shannon said the college made the decision to have students leave their clinical sites to preserve scarce personal protective equipment for front-line care providers, reduce exposure of vulnerable patients to essential personnel only, and allow clinical partners to focus on patient care and safety.

“What ensued was innovation,” Shannon said. “Students and faculty used creative means to help students still learn to ‘think like a nurse.’”

The college provided virtual simulation software that allows students to select interactions and nursing care interventions and then receive feedback from a simulated patient. College of Nursing instructor Janet Smith said the software has been excellent, providing robust scenarios that enable students to pull information from specific readings and resources and then apply that knowledge.

“(Virtual simulation) challenges the student to use critical thinking and clinical judgment,” Smith said. “Simulation allows students to participate in the assigned simulation several different times to allow them to correct errors and solidify their learning.”

College of Nursing clinical instructor and course coordinator Leesha Ford said that students especially appreciated opportunities to redo the simulation and learn to perform better – a practice not always possible in live simulations or with patients in clinical settings. Students and faculty also completed online clinical conferencing each week to allow students to ask questions and provide insights.

“I’m so proud of how the MSU College of Nursing adapted quickly in response to the pandemic and resulting limitation to social interactions,” Shannon said. Not only are we ensuring that our nursing students continue to receive the theory and clinical preparation they need to be bachelor’s prepared nurses, but we took advantage of this unprecedented public health crisis to teach unique content in innovative ways.”

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