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COVID-19 opens new opportunities for Boise State nursing students

COVID-19 has created new learning opportunities for nursing students to take on as the pandemic wears on.

BOISE, Idaho — Students in the Boise State University School of Nursing work are preparing to enter an interesting career as the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on. A major teaching tool to help students with hands-on experience is inside the Boise State simulation center, where students fine-tune their skills

“Beds are set up like a regular hospital room. So, we’ve got working equipment, working air, we’ve got mannequins in there,” explained Dr. Kelley Connor, Director of the Simulation Center at Boise State.  

Dr. Connor said the mannequins students learn on are far more than test dummies.

Nursing students like John Dye are getting simulated reps to get them ready for real-life work.

“Well, I was originally a geologist and I worked in the oil fields in North Dakota and Wyoming and Montana,” said Dye

In early 2020, Dye decided it was time for a career change, and what a time he ended up picking to get into nursing.

“I feel like it’s going to be one of those things we tell our grandkids, 'Yeah I became a nurse in the middle of the COVID pandemic,'” Dye said.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced faculty to get creative and consider how to best approach training nurses that seemed destined to deal with the coronavirus.

“It’s been a time of a lot of creativity and generating new tools to use with students, that has been very fortunate. Even though it turned everything on its head and it has been difficult, we’ve learned a lot things rapidly because we had to,” Connor said.

While the experience in the simulation lab is crucial, students take one step further as a part of their course work, going inside the hospital to learn on the job.

“The hospital, all of them and especially St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus, have been really proactive in trying to integrate students into the educational scenarios they can,” said Dr. Max Veltman, the clinical coordinator for the program at Boise State.

Dr. Veltman said the work inside Idaho hospitals during COVID-19 helps students develop a unique skill set.

“It’s training and practice so that at the end of the semester, prior to graduation, they’ve really taken on the role of a nurse so they are feeling pretty confident that they are ready to go. Graduate, few months later they are out on their own,” Veltman said.

John Dye, for example, got a fast-track lesson on working through COVID-19 as a student nurse at the Veterans Hospital in Boise.

“It was rough, especially a couple of weeks ago. We had a lot of COVID patients, they were having to adjust how they operated in order to be able to take on the overflow from Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s and other places. We were even getting people coming in from Montana and Northern Idaho,” Dye said.

Tough work conditions inside hospitals have simply taken a toll on Idaho nurses, burning them out of the job. It’s something program leaders address head-on with students.

“Nurse burnout is real and that’s something that COVID has forced us to take a look at how are we getting our students ready and that is actually a major component of what we are really trying to get students to understand is: as much as they want to give, as much as they want to help the community, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t taking care of themselves,” Veltman said.

Nurse burnout is leading to more and more professionals leaving the field. These students know what they are heading into after graduation, begging the question, why are they doing this?

“I never hesitated as the pandemic started in my decision, I knew that I was going into this to help people and I am going to help them no matter what their illness is. I know there is going to be a lot of stress and I know there is going to be fear and everything else involved. But, that’s part of being a nurse. If it’s not COVID it’s going to be something else and so I just saw this as a great experience in how bad things could possibly be. I figured, if I can make it through nursing school in the middle of a pandemic like this and I still want to be a nurse then it is probably the right thing for me,” Dye said.

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