Celebrating Nurses

School of Nursing embraces lessons learned from pandemic, seeks support for emerging technologies, opportunities

Published: May 11, 2021 | Updated: May 20, 2021
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Nursing is a practical profession, and a global pandemic has only reinforced that. Auburn University’s School of Nursing is using the COVID-19 pandemic not only to better equip nursing students today, but also to ultimately create the blueprint for innovative nursing education in the future.

"We have been forever changed,” said Karol Renfroe, assistant clinical professor. “We always knew something like this was coming but, as a nation, despite our best efforts, we discovered areas in which we were truly unprepared. For us, especially, if we don’t take the lessons we’ve learned and use them to prepare for the future, I think we will have missed a big opportunity.”

For future health care workers like Heather McClure, senior nursing and Honors College student, the pandemic created extraordinary opportunities. These experiences, particularly working in COVID-19 vaccine clinics, were like stepping into history.

“I don’t know that we always see how we’re truly a part of history,” she said. “But I know that one day, my children will study about COVID in their classes, and I will tell them, ‘I lived through that and was part of helping eradicate it. I was there to see our community start to heal.’”

Regardless of the chaos in the world, the School of Nursing remains committed to producing the same high-quality Auburn nurses the health care community has come to expect. Doing this during the pandemic has required modifications such as improvised virtual simulation exercises, a flipped curriculum and community outreach, including COVID testing and vaccine clinics.

“I’m not exactly sure what normal looks like anymore,” said Gregg E. Newschwander, dean and the Barbara S. Witt Professor. “But I do know that as I look around and see how our students, faculty and staff adapted during the past year and how they have risen to each challenge, I am encouraged about the future.”

Future focus

In addition to an increased focus on infectious diseases, the future of health care and nursing education will include interdisciplinary teams, resourceful use of cutting-edge technology and pioneering research with implications far beyond Auburn’s campus, the region and the state. Experiential learning with schools and colleges across Auburn’s campus and in clinical and hospital settings will continue to play significant roles in preparing Auburn nurses.

“We also need to utilize our existing resources differently,” Newschwander said. “We need to enhance our simulation labs with state-of-the-art tools like virtual and augmented reality software and advanced audio and visual capture capabilities. These tools will give us the strategic flexibility to utilize resources most efficiently and to modify our hands-on training to meet new challenges.”

Although these tools are expensive, they are part of an overall strategy to be nimble, agile and ready for whatever the future brings. Gifts from the Auburn Family will ensure Auburn nurses are prepared for that future.

“The very best care is based on as much practice and repetition as possible,” Renfroe said. “We usually achieve this through clinical practice in hospital settings, but there is really innovative technology on the market now that can assist with virtual practice when students can’t be in a clinical setting.”

International Nurses Day

People around the globe will honor nurses on May 12, International Nurses Day. Unaccustomed to being center stage, nurses have been hailed as heroes during the pandemic and have had their stories featured in news outlets around the world. The often less-than-glamorous portrayal of their life-saving and dangerous work might discourage some young people considering a career in health care, but others like Ross Johnson, senior nursing and Honors College student, are more confident than ever about their choice.

“I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field working directly with people,” Johnson said. “But seeing these real experiences that are having such an impact on people’s lives has given me even more respect for nurses. This has just been more confirmation that I’m in the right field and that I will be able to make a real difference in the world.”

Sara Hollis Smith T, senior nursing major, has dreamed of being a nurse since she was a young girl. Choosing Auburn University’s School of Nursing to fulfill her dreams was a natural decision. Realizing them during a global pandemic, however—that, she never anticipated.

“I would never have imagined what my first year of nursing school would be like—it has been crazy,” she said. “Giving my aunt her COVID vaccine was the most amazing experience and never would’ve happened had I not been in nursing school at Auburn.”

Even before the world changed so drastically, Auburn’s School of Nursing was prioritizing problem-solving and critical thinking in the curriculum because in times of uncertainty, students will depend on those skills.

“As health care providers and educators, we know it’s not enough to simply react when we see a crisis,” Newschwander said. “We must anticipate, prepare and innovate so we are ready for the next challenge.”

Because without a doubt, there will be one.

Support Auburn Nursing at https://aub.ie/AuburnNurses.

More Information Support Auburn Nursing

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.