How it feels to join a nursing program at Campus Zero

(Photo: Lake Washington Institute of Technology)

Editor’s note: This article comes from the August/September issue of the Community College Journal, published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

In the winter of 2020, I interviewed for the associate dean of nursing position at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech). On Friday March 6, 2020, I received a call asking if I would start on March 9. Little did I know that nursing students in clinicals at a long-term healthcare facility would soon be at the center of the first U.S. Covid-19 outbreak, and the college would soon become Campus Zero, as the first college in the country directly impacted by the virus.

As a new employee joining an organization which was in remote operations, most of the communication came from leadership via emails and online video meetings. During these challenging months of the pandemic, leadership matters when you are in a crisis. LWTech President Amy Morrison regularly communicated the actions she and the executive cabinet were taking to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. Onboarding via video conferencing, learning the organizational structure, process, working with faculty and supporting students posed a variety of challenges during those first few weeks, which included the end of winter quarter, a pinning ceremony and the admission of a new cohort of students for spring quarter, all of which were conducted online.

Our college supported our students in a variety of ways with the assistance from the LWTech Foundation, the philanthropical arm of the college, which included gift cards for groceries and technology, like laptops, as we pivoted to remote instruction. Our amazing IT and e-learning team pivoted to offer support and training for faculty so we could learn how to teach in an online environment. They created amazing tutorials not only for faculty but for the students as well.

I was left feeling a sense of awe and support from a team I barely knew. The level of mutual support, respect and willingness to help each other was evident from day one, week one of my joining LWTech.

New challenges everyday

The loss of all clinical placements for our students for the upcoming spring quarter posed another set of challenges. How do we continue to train as a program? Could we use simulation as a substitute for clinical hours? What approvals would we need from the Nursing Commission and our accrediting body? How do I support our students and faculty during this challenging time? These were questions I had as every day posed a new challenge.

I must admit I was relieved when June 2020 came, and we had limited classes being offered in the summer so I could focus on the upcoming accreditation report and submission in August. As September approached, the atmosphere was different than other academic fall quarters. We returned to offering limited classes for labs only.

Students would see each other in person only in the lab and in the clinical setting. Our abilities to teach remotely improved, however there always seemed to be some hiccups in lectures with remote instruction. We continued to have issues around clinical placements, and at times it felt more doors were closed than open.

In the winter, as the routine of remote instruction continued, the video pinning ceremony was held, and onboarding new students virtually became somewhat easier. The planning for faculty and students continued to be a moving target as clinical agencies opened or closed doors. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee identified nursing students as essential workers, which enabled our students to not only continue their education, but to be eligible to receive the vaccine. It felt like we turned a page and maybe we could get back to normal instruction sometime sooner rather than later, maybe even for fall quarter.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 18 months since I joined LWTech and so much has happened to all of us. I feel a sense of community and belonging with people I mostly have met with online.

As I reflect on the past 18 months, I’ve seen the passion people have about nursing grow. LWTech has seen an increase in enrollment in health sciences since the pandemic started. I’ve also seen how nursing faculty across the country faced many challenges to maintain instruction in the classroom, lab and virtually as clinical sites closed their doors due to the pandemic. Even with these challenges, they transformed their instructional design to ensure a continuum of a strong pipeline for new graduates, which is so needed.

About the Author

Lauren Cline
is associate dean of nursing at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Washington.