This week reminds me of the days in the 1980s when I worked in Africa. It was the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis. I worked in a rural hospital and school of nursing in a tropical rain forest. I was uninformed about HIV/AIDS. Nursing students continued to care for patients with resistant tuberculosis and ‘wasting syndrome.’ Blood samples were collected and hand-carried in a thermos to the nearest testing center several hours away. Each sample came back as positive.
I became fearful, my security shaken, and anxiety ruled.
COVID-19 ‘happened,’ and all of a sudden, those same fears, thoughts and potential scenarios ruled my mind. As a leader in the School of Nursing, I shared with the team what God taught me in the 1980s. I shared Psalm 91 with our team of healthcare educators: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in who I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2).
Healthcare education dramatically changed. Nursing clinical experiences were canceled, nurse practitioners are unable to complete hours, the NCLEX-RN exam schedule changed, and the list goes on. All healthcare students (medical, therapy, nursing, etc.) requiring face-to-face practice experiences are affected, impacting graduations, jobs, and life plans.
The happenings the past few months in China, Italy, the US, and most countries around the world were unplanned, unthinkable, and unfathomable. So how does a healthcare student who is a faith believer face uncertainty?
I am discovering that instead of social distancing, I am practicing physical distancing. I need social interactions. I like working and living in community. Healthcare students need social support as they recognize that education is changed, and it will affect their immediate future (postponed or canceled graduation). Students need an opportunity to express their fears, disappointments, and losses in safe environments. Faculty need to provide opportunities one-on-one and in groups to grieve together, to laugh together, and share what God is teaching them through losses.
Time for sharing Scripture verses, answers to prayers, and solutions to feeling isolated must be provided to students and faculty and family. God is teaching each of us lessons, and sharing the experiences benefits the faith community.
So what is the role of the healthcare student during the COVID-19 pandemic? It is to be the voice of hope for fearful people; it is to share community, especially for those who are isolated and alone, and to trust God for the future of their healthcare careers.