Training the Next Generation of Nurses

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of healthcare professionals, and further emphasized the ever-growing shortage of skilled healthcare experts across the nation and the need for innovative solutions.

Through newly-organized simulation modules, volunteerism, and education on the importance of mental health and work-life balance, the Island University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences is working to prepare the next generation of healthcare workers to serve the Coastal Bend community and beyond.

“A&M-Corpus Christi is looking towards the future,” Brayton Amidon '15, '19, CONHS simulation lab coordinator, said. “As the focus of healthcare shifts from disease management to preventative healthcare, the college is adapting to meet the needs of both nurses and communities.”

Preparing the next generation includes preparing pandemic-ready healthcare professionals. Islander nursing students made history this semester as they volunteered to aid in the disbursement of nearly 10,000 COVID-19 vaccinations.
Students say their time spent volunteering created a novel opportunity to engage with the community and stand by their fellow nurses.

“We’re being trained to get out there and help. We’re the next crop of nurses, and for many of us, this is our potential client population,” Elizabeth Seabolt '21, nursing major, said. “These are unprecedented times and we’re aching to be able to get out and help however we can.”

In addition, college faculty and staff reorganized and launched new curriculum structures including a vast array of simulation and telehealth modules. The college also debuted a new apartmentstyle simulation lab for home-health/ primary care training with scenarios that incorporate patient assessment, education, and culture competencies. Complete with a kitchen, living room, and dining area, the new apartment simulation lab focuses on the importance of preventative healthcare aimed at an aging population.

According to Dr. Julie Fomenko '17, former assistant professor and director of the Simulation and Clinical Learning Center, the work of nurses is rapidly expanding to home-based care, hospice and palliative care, and home-based education.

“These simulated patient encounters help broaden the experience of our students and show them other areas where nurses make such a huge impact on the health of a community,” Fomenko said.

At a national and global level, job burnout and moral distress have caused a tremendous amount of turnover in the nursing profession. According to a 2021 study done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 54% percent of nurses suffered from moderate burnout, with emotional exhaustion scores increasing by 10% and cynicism scores increasing 19% after one year.

Taking note of current concerns among healthcare professionals working under exceptional circumstances, the college has adapted its pedagogy to include a more holistic approach.

“I always like to remind students that if we don’t take good care of ourselves, it will eventually become very hard to take care of others,” Fomenko said. “The pandemic and lockdown pulled this clearly into focus as we saw the increase of mental health issues facing healthcare workers. We hope to demonstrate to our students that by caring for them and ourselves, we can normalize mental health treatment and be more comfortable with discussing it in the open.”

Nursing major Dyana Saenz '21 said her professors are preparing her to think in broader terms.

“The time we spend considering psychosocial aspects of care has been extremely valuable,” Saenz said. “Our professors offer their time to talk about everything from clarifying lessons, to career advice, to mental health considerations. We are learning how nurses should prioritize the care of patients—and their own families—during this crisis.”

Islander students say it is because of supportive faculty and a flexible educational environment that they now have the tools to revolutionize the future of patient care. The nursing program is one of the most popular on campus.

“The program has given us the opportunity to earn our right into the profession,” Shane Fulp '21, nursing major, said. “The program itself has taught us resilience during these tough times, making us stronger as individuals. The program is truly one of a kind.”