It’s a Saturday morning when Kate Cook, DNP, MSN, RN receives a text from one of her students. They just learned that a parent was diagnosed with COVID. There’s an assignment due Monday and were wondering if they could have a bit more time to complete it. Kate grabs her phone and writes back, “Of course. Please take the time you need to help your family and we will work something out for the assignment. Don’t stress about it, you’re doing great in this course. Focus on what is important right now.”
She takes another sip from her morning coffee and exhales deeply putting her phone back down. She looks out the window from her home office in Toledo, Ohio, and wonders when she’ll get through a weekend without hearing emotional news from one of her students.
Kate has spent a lot of time during her eighteen-year nursing career both learning and teaching others how to be an exceptional nurse. While working as a nurse educator in hospitals, she earned her Master’s degree. After teaching bachelor’s courses in a campus environment for four years, she began teaching online at Chamberlain in 2017. A year ago, she earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is now the course leader for the two foundational courses for the RN to BSN Online Option. She found time outside of her busy teaching schedule and caring for her two teenage boys and their two crazy dogs to talk to us about what she does to support her students.
“By far the biggest challenge I see with my students is how to balance their work and life responsibilities with the time needed to study for their BSN. Many of them either have young families or aging parents they care for as well.”
She explains that the RN to BSN program option is an intense experience and is designed so that everyone leaves with comprehensive knowledge. But it’s recognized that everybody’s path will be different and so accommodations will be made to help students when their lives become overwhelming.
Adapting to technology and online communication
While more experienced students have often been a practicing nurse for many years, it may have been some time since they attended school. Often, this is the first online schooling they’ve ever done. Kate explains that faculty members spend a lot of time in the first course, Transitions in Professional Nursing, ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the learning environment, knows how to find the syllabus, where to look for additional resources and how to use the discussion forums.
The methods used for communication are also an adjustment for many of the students. In an in-person school setting, you could just walk up to the professor after class or see them during office hours to have your questions answered. At Chamberlain, teachers are available through email, while others might encourage students to reach out by text message.
A lot of effort is spent getting students over that barrier so that they can have productive communication throughout the course and can get their questions answered when they’re studying on the weekends.
“If it’s Saturday, I’m not going to see my email, but I will see my texts so please don’t hesitate to text me,” Kate says she tells her students. “Even though I tell them that I’m comfortable with this, it takes a while for them to adjust their habits and believe me when I say it’s okay.”
Diversity is a strength
It is hard to describe a typical Chamberlain student, beyond that each of them aspires to be the best nurse they can be. Kate describes each cohort as having a wide range of experience levels. They could be someone who just graduated from their ADN and passed their boards and doesn’t have a job yet, to an RN with 20 years of experience.
”Every term I tell the class that all experiences are valuable, whether you’ve been at this a long time or are just starting out. Healthcare is always changing and fresh eyes are so important for having deep discussions.”
Because the field of healthcare is constantly changing, the skills needed to provide culturally safe care for a diverse population simply weren’t taught 20 years ago. These might include:
- Assessing mental health issues including suicidal ideation
- Being attentive for signs of abuse
- Dealing with end of life considerations
- The language to respectfully communicate with families who have adoptive children
- How to speak with people who identify as LGBTQ, and even how to manage forms that don’t have accurate choices for them.
- How to respect diverse cultural attitudes to health care
Because Chamberlain has such a culturally diverse student population, classroom discussions really benefit from having many different perspectives.
Teaching is always personal
Kate tries to make herself available to students so that when something comes up for them, they feel comfortable reaching out to explain what’s going on in their lives. She speaks of a time when she received an incredibly emotional and detailed email from a student that made it clear that she needed more help than she could provide.
“I recommended that she connect with one of our mental health counselors to talk with someone about everything that was going on in her life,” Kate said. “A couple of weeks later she came back to me to thank me. We had a simple conversation to work out what would be a reasonable deadline for her work.”
She explains that sometimes her role is to match the right student with the right resource. It could be pointing them towards a book in our library or suggesting a tutor to help them with their writing skills.
Proactive Student Support
Chamberlain faculty hold regular team meetings and the first thing they talk about is how students are doing, what they are hearing from them and who might be struggling.
“When a student tells me that their dad got sick or they got moved to night shifts, they are often surprised at how flexible and understanding we are about life circumstances. I’m told this is very different from what they’ve experienced in other schools.”
Further to this, faculty often notice when a student’s behavior changes and will reach out to see if there’s any support they can offer.
“If someone used to participate frequently in the discussions and I notice that they aren’t quite as active, I’ll check in with them over email to see how they’re doing,” she said. “Nine times out of ten there’s something going on and I’m able to offer them some extra time or other ways to help them.”
Supportive curriculum for RN-BSN degrees
One of the ways Kate is innovating and leading at Chamberlain is her work over the last year implementing a simulated healthcare environment called iHuman. It allows learners to interact with virtual patients through a series of case studies. They’ll review charts, perform initial assessments, ask follow up questions and update their patient records. iHuman offers a safe place to practice situations that you might only encounter very rarely.
For example, one topic explored is how to incorporate mental health challenges that experienced nurses might not have been trained to deal with.
“When you have a patient expressing suicidal ideation, you don’t have time to consult your textbook. It’s so important that you can lean on your practice experience to make that person feel seen and understood.”
When implementing this system, she had to consider the barriers for all students, such as those for whom English is a second language, and that it was also accessible from mobile devices.
Chamberlain Care in Action
Kate is just one of the many faculty at Chamberlain who exemplify what it means to care for their students. Because feeling supported goes beyond getting answers for your anatomy questions. It’s about creating an environment where people feel safe to share personal details about their lives and feel comfortable asking for help.
Find out more about the RN to BSN Online Option at Chamberlain.
By Chamberlain University
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