Published May 17, 2020
By Stephanie Woods / Dean, Hunt School of Nursing
I recently helped celebrate the class of 2020’s graduation from the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. Of course, I did this from my computer.
But don’t assume our new graduates remotely participated in this pandemic.
Nursing students are told early in their training that someday they may face a choice between their professional obligations and their own health, or the health of their family.
But no one expected for this choice to come so soon, or for it to be so stark. Still, our students stepped up, and our community should recognize the extraordinary service of all nursing students during this time.
In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Nursing decided that nursing schools were allowed to exceed a 50% limit on simulated clinical practice and extend the period that graduates and vocational nurses can practice with a temporary license. With this decision, many nursing schools halted clinical rotations, citing many of the same considerations we faced: lack of personal protective equipment, the stress of health care providers and potential exposure for students.
But we knew that even before the pandemic struck, there was already a devastating nursing shortage. We knew that allowing nursing students, especially graduating seniors, to remain in clinical rotations could provide relief to nurses on the front lines. We also knew that the knowledge and skills they would acquire during the early days of the crisis could help them better prepare for the projected surges of the future.
To dive deeper into this battle of obligation versus protection, I asked our nursing students about their concerns. I heard worries about finding child care, meeting deadlines, and their concerns for safety and the safety of loved ones.
Yet even as they expressed their fears, our student nurses also relayed amazing stories about their commitment to their chosen profession. One recently cared for a laboring woman who had no family with her. Another student told me that now is the time to be brave.
In the end, we concluded that now more than ever, it is essential to prepare our new graduates.
Today our nursing students and recent graduates are learning on the front lines, deploying compassion and care like a weapon against the ravages of COVID-19.
But their concerns remain. So please take a moment to thank the masked figure who is there to make sure you are not alone.
And if you are able to support our nursing students with a financial donation, I hope you will do so.
At my last in-person graduation in December, I told our graduating class that they would always be remembered for their actions after last August’s mass shooting. I hoped that would be the most traumatizing event they and our city would ever face.
Never did I think we would be where we are today.
Still, as I told the spring class of 2020, when life gives you an experience you would have never asked for, it refines a treasure within that you didn’t know existed.
These new nurses are El Paso’s treasure, and I’m proud to know them.
Stephanie Woods, Ph.D., R.N., is dean of the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.