When spring residencies were delayed in March for safety reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Nursing had one goal in mind—provide students with an equivalent, robust residency experience in the summer to keep their educational trajectory in motion.
Residencies are an integral component of the Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN/FNP) programs. They affirm and validate the advanced skills needed before students can progress in coursework. Without completing a residency, these nursing students can’t graduate.
When spring residencies were delayed in March for safety reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Nursing had one goal in mind—provide students with an equivalent, robust residency experience in the summer to keep their educational trajectory in motion. The result was a three-day on-campus residency combined with a virtual component prior to the in-person portion.
Some of the resulting changes were novel—like the incorporation of rolling Plexiglass dividers for instructors to safely move around the classroom and use of screen shares to make sure all students in the space could see and hear instructions and demonstrations. Others were more granular—such as adding power cords to support the increased number of devices and ensuring that the live streams of in-classroom demonstrations would work uninterrupted. All changes were made to keep students safe and instruction unimpeded.
Sun Jones, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, program chair of University of Phoenix’s MSN/FNP programs, said it was made possible through collaborative effort of representatives from the College of Nursing, legal, campus operations, housekeeping and security, ensured that the residency happened, and it happened safely.
“It worked because of the dedication of leadership, faculty and staff to our students’ experiences,” Jones said. “It took teamwork, and everyone involved was willing to put in the hours to make this happen.”
Typically, 150 students come together once every two to three months for a five-day residency. COVID-19 restrictions broke the residencies down to 30 students for a three to five-day experience, with a total of five summer residencies instead of one large cohort.
"We really had to think through every step of every portion of the residency. What will students touch? What processes can we change to make it work? How can we use existing resources in a new way? Which things can stay the same?"
— Jeffrey Hendrickson, director of campus operations for the Phoenix Campus
The logistics of running an effective hands-on residency are already a challenge, even without incorporating COVID-19 protocols, said Jeffrey Hendrickson, director of campus operations for the Phoenix Campus. It took creative and innovative thinking, which was student-centered the whole way through the planning process.
“We really had to think through every step of every portion of the residency,” he said. “What will students touch? What processes can we change to make it work? How can we use existing resources in a new way? Which things can stay the same?”
A walk-through event before students arrived allowed campus personnel and faculty to see, feel and experience the residency just as the students would. At that point, it was time to welcome students.
Vanessa Akines was among the students in the first summer cohort. When she heard that residencies in March were delayed, she worried that it might set her back in her coursework. She was contacted by her academic advisor and given the opportunity to participate in the summer residency or wait until it was safe to return to campus.
With uncertainty around when residencies would return to normal, she signed up for the summer cohort. Akines had her doubts. There were times leading up to the trip from her home in Florida to the residency site in Arizona where she nearly cancelled her plans.
She chose to move forward, and is glad she did. Akines said the forethought and planning were clear in the resulting experience: A professional, clean, well-organized event full of friendly, masked faces.
“I really wondered how they could possibly make such a critical, hands-on experience work, but they did,” Akines said. “They showed they cared about my well-being. It meant a lot.”
The instruction in the residency demanded hands-on interaction. Students were required to complete a head-to-toe physical assessment of a male patient, female patient and pediatric patient, as well as the process of suturing. These could not be done virtually and may have presented health risks in person. The College’s innovation made it all possible.
Akines felt she learned these skills and also had the level of interaction she felt necessary with instructors throughout the process. Faculty answered her questions, corrected her pronunciation of medical terminology and gave live demonstrations, just as they would in a pre-COVID-19 environment.
She said the experience exceeded her expectations and encourages others in the program to move forward with their residencies.
“I can’t promise you won’t be nervous, but you will have understanding instructors there, who have done these residencies many times,” Akines said. “They want you to succeed. I’d do it all over again.”