By Jeff Murphy, March 1, 2021
WARRENSBURG, MO – Pursuing a nursing degree at a time of pandemic may be a daunting task, but University of Central Missouri students not only remain committed to their educational pathways to become healthcare professionals, they are making a difference through their service to others.
North Kansas City resident Nicole “Nic” Webb is the director of UCM’s School of Nursing. The program she oversees currently serves undergraduate and graduate students at UCM’s campus in Warrensburg and at UCM-Lee’s Summit, as well as students online. She recalled that nearly a year ago the nursing program had to temporarily move to all online courses due to the pandemic. While this adjustment only lasted through the spring and summer 2020, it was also the beginning of what would lead to new opportunities for students to gain real-life experience in nursing at a rare and difficult time in history.
While UCM nursing students are pursuing clinicals this year across the Kansas City metropolitan area, they have also provided a strong source of support for UCM’s Student Health Center in Warrensburg and the local community in the fight against COVID-19. Diana Herman, whose nursing career includes 21 years at UCM, currently serves as the Health Center’s interim director. She said she found a willing partner in the facility’s fight to slow the pandemic through the university’s nursing faculty and students.
“We talked with Dr.Webb in the nursing department, and all along she was very supportive as we asked if we could have nursing student support and nursing instructor support,” Herman said. “The things we were anticipating were to use student nurses to do contact tracing and case management, calling and checking on people while they are in quarantine or in isolation. We knew at some point there were going to be COVID vaccinations and we would have some major vaccination clinics on campus.”
So far this academic year, nursing students and their faculty assisted Johnson County Community Health Services, Western Missouri Medical Center and Summers Pharmacy in Warrensburg with administering COVID-19 vaccine at multiple clinics in Warrensburg and Holden. They also assisted the University Health Center with mass influenza clinics for students as well as incoming international student immunization clinics, according to Herman.
“The other thing our students are assisting the health clinic with is they are doing what we call checkup calls,” Webb said. “Once a student has been diagnosed with COVID, they are able to call that student and ask a series of questions to make sure that student is convalescing and that they are doing okay and that they are not developing symptoms that warrant a visit to a hospital or a clinic.”
Webb said nursing students’ clinical experiences in the Kansas City area are an important step toward earning their degree, but in a year of pandemic the value of such opportunities is multiplied. Students are not only able to lend a hand through their service to the hospitals where they gain hands-on experience, but they see firsthand how COVID-19 is affecting healthcare workers.
Asia Rodriguez, a senior nursing student from Warrensburg, is currently involved in clinical training in Kansas City at St. Luke’s Hospital at the Plaza. Her experience entails working on different floors, including those that now house patients affected by COVID-19. While she contributes to the care of others through her clinical service, she is also discovering how nurses must deal with challenges they face at an extraordinary time.
“I definitely would have never expected going into nursing school during these types of circumstances,” said Rodriguez, who hopes that after earning a degree she can work in the hospital’s neurology area. “So, one of the biggest things with nursing is you have to be able to adapt. This has given us a lot of new skills we will be able to utilize.”
Tyler Evers, a senior nursing student from Lee’s Summit, said the passing of a close friend due to a heart issue ignited his desire to pursue a career in nursing. While seeking a degree from UCM, he is gaining clinical experience at North Kansas City Hospital. While he is applying the knowledge he obtained from his coursework to real-life experiences, he is learning a lot from seasoned nurses.
“Working with medical professionals in a nursing situation really just shows versatility in nurses and their adaptation. They just ebb and flow with everything that comes at them. That’s really cool to see with veteran nurses just how proficient they are with everything that is going on.”
While COVID-19 may have posed challenges, both Evers and Rodriguez believe the combination of clinical training, classroom experience, and service, are providing experiences that not all nursing students encounter. Although these opportunities may not be easy, they believe they, like other healthcare professionals, are getting better prepared for the future, and that is exactly what UCM’s nursing faculty want.
“My hope is that they had a wonderful experience and that they will take those experiences with them as they enter the workforce and that it will help them to be successful nurses.”