Nurse Educators Find New Rhythms Amid Pandemic
Updated: Feb 26
This blog post was written by Carol Forde-Johnston, MSc, RN, PGDipEd, RNT, Recruitment and Retention Nursing Lead at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
If there is one thing 2020 has taught us, it is how important nurse educators are to supporting students and staff during a pandemic. Nurse educators are invaluable to students and nursing teams who rely on our wisdom, understanding, and skills to direct and support individuals. Never before has this been more important than during the challenging times we have experienced across health and social care this last year, and continue to experience in 2021. Amid increasingly challenging university and health care environments, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has placed our nursing profession under pressure like never before. Nurse education is paramount to the future development of highly skilled and knowledgeable practitioners, and the effective delivery of health care services and person-centred nursing care. It is wonderful that the importance of our profession and role has been recognised and celebrated during the current pandemic. However, it should not have taken a global virus to highlight the work we do or the insufficient nurse staffing levels that affect us all.
The role of nurse educators is varied, encompassing a range of clinical settings and institutions. You may work as a University lecturer, clinical nurse educator, a professional development nurse, education lead, or within a joint appointment between a University and health care institution. Wherever you work as a nurse educator, you will have played an active role in supporting, encouraging, motivating, and advising nursing students and/or staff through constant change and disruption. Without the support of nurse educators and colleagues, many students and staff would have become more anxious, demotivated, or been too overwhelmed to study or work. Our nursing and medical evidence base throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been continually updated, leading to rapidly changing nursing policy, procedures, and guidance. Our daily rhythms have been upset by quick turnarounds, targets, and deadlines that have been revised to meet the needs of students, staff, universities, health and social care institutions, and services. Nurse educators have had to embrace new ways of working, such as: home working; leading virtual teaching environments; advising and supporting students who have dealt with disruptions to nursing programmes and clinical placements; and supporting nursing staff who have been re-deployed into unfamiliar clinical environments. Our role has been immense and we should take time to reflect and take comfort in what we have achieved. We have all made a difference and positively impacted on student/staff well-being and patient care.
Over the last year, nurse educators’ working and home-life routines and "rhythms" have had to rapidly evolve to meet these changes. We all have a life out of work where we have had to contend with the lack of human touch and socialisation with friends or family. Some of us are dealing with home-schooling children, supporting elderly parents at a distance, or feeling isolated and lonely ourselves, whilst balancing our workloads. We have all had to find a
"new rhythm" or "normal" that considers our own needs with those of students, staff, family, and friends. We will need to deal with change and re-align again when we return to face-to-face contact, classroom settings and normal services resume. To help you find your balance, it helps to reflect on your achievements, prioritise your self-care, access support, and compromise, as you cannot do it all.
Reflect on your achievements: Nurse educators are natural critical thinkers and we may focus on the negatives or have a tendency to catastrophize when things have not worked out as expected. Take time out (daily/weekly/monthly) to reflect on your achievements through all the ups and downs you have encountered this year. Try to put things in perspective by reflecting with others. They may be experiencing similar issues or help to advise you if they have dealt with a similar problem.
Self-care: As nurse educators, we often prioritise the needs of staff and students over our own. We instinctively want to help, teach, support, and nurture others; one of the reasons we choose to be educators. However, we cannot be there for others without caring for ourselves first. Over the coming months, try to reflect on your successes and focus on you and your self-care. Take time out to prioritise your physical and mental well-being and focus on YOUR needs!
Access support: Nurse educators often work autonomously: running modules; marking assignments; developing clinical teaching programmes; providing pastoral care to learners or clinical education and training to staff. We can sometimes feel isolated; however, we work within a team of educators and have a line manager who is there to offer advice, guidance, and support. Connect with others across your institution and access available support. If there are no networks currently available, then set up your own on-line support group to connect and share experiences. You are not alone and talking through current issues with your peers will help you through the difficult times.
Compromise: As a final thought, what would you advise someone who was in the same position as you? You would never suggest that they work over their hours, take on too much; constantly reply to emails and sustain an unhealthy work-life balance. You would suggest they compromise, set more achievable goals, and look after themselves.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Remember, we all need to look out for others but we also need to be kind to ourselves!
Carol leads recruitment and retention initiatives and provides structured career advice, education, and clinical supervision to registered and unregistered nurses. She is passionate about providing structured support for newly registered nurses. Carol has worked as a Registered Nurse for 33 years and was a Lecturer Practitioner for 22 years, which involved leading 3rd year nursing modules. She is a 2nd year PhD in Nursing student at Oxford Brookes University. Carol has written two books: one to help newly qualified nurses thrive, and one to prepare nurses and midwives for interviews and developing their careers.
Connect with Carol
Carol can be reached via Twitter @FordeJohnston