Attending to a "patient"

From left, Dr. Monica Tenhunen, Hannah Dixon, Dr. Denise Neill and Camila Brown, of the Texas A&M University-Commerce Nursing Department attend to a “patient.” Since COVID-19 measures were first put in place in March, the department has been having to adapt on the constant basis as they work to prepare students for careers in nursing.

Since March, nurses around the world have been actively fighting against COVID-19. And while the global health situation has put nurses in the spotlight for their tireless service, the virus is also forcing nursing schools to ready their students for these challenging times.

The nursing and health sciences department at Texas A&M University-Commerce had just moved into their new building one semester before the pandemic when students and faculty not only had to adjust to remote learning but also had to start conducting one-on-one healthcare simulations (or sims, as the assignments are called) and recording videos to demonstrate competencies.

“Since March, so many things have changed, everything from pedagogy (teaching) to budget,” A&M-Commerce Nursing Department Head Denise Neill told the Herald-Banner. “Statewide, the rules have been changing daily, so when we’re just about to get the hang of new procedures, new changes come in.

“A lot of our faculty have been remarkably creative though, so in a way, COVID-19 has helped us to ‘get out of our ruts’ and rethink how we do things. An example of something creative that one of our faculty has done was building a disaster sim using Barbie dolls when the regular disaster sim was canceled.

“It’s all made us re-evaluate what’s essential,” Neill added.

Despite the changes, many of the nursing students have appreciated the extra lengths that their faculty at A&M-Commerce have gone to.

“It’s impressive how quickly people adapted,” said Camila Brown, a second-year nursing student. “I’ve heard from people going to other schools that they were not able to go back to in-person instruction, but I’ll tell them, ‘We were able to find a way to do it.’

“I like how we came together,” Brown continued. “The school has also been very flexible, which is good because my kids go to school in Dallas ISD and because of my husband’s schedule as a (military and commercial) pilot.”

While many of A&M-Commerce’s students are rising to the challenges posed by learning healthcare during an international pandemic, they also miss the greater amount of interpersonal interaction they would typically have.

“There’s really no adequate way to warn incoming students how difficult the nursing program is, because every person’s situation is different,” said Hannah Dixon, a first-year nursing student.

“Nursing is already stressful, so you really need that support from your classmates,” Dixon continued. “My class of 2022 is like family, and like they told us at the beginning, ‘nursing is hard, and you’re not going to get through it alone.’”

As the department continues to forge ahead during the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, many are seeing signs that the higher level of thinking that it takes to plan lessons and complete assignments may ultimately produce nurses that are better prepared for future roles as caregivers, coaches and confidants.

“People are a lot more adaptable than they’re often given credit for,” Professor Monica Tenhunen said. “For example, all these short videos that everyone in the department is making can be used to create a library of useful videos for continued use.

“Innovation isn’t just an academic buzzword,” Dr. Tenhunen added. “It can mean nursing done a lot better.”

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email

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