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How MSU nursing students adjusted from hands-on to virtual learning

May 21, 2020
A group of MSU nursing students. Photo courtesy Josie Brehm.
A group of MSU nursing students. Photo courtesy Josie Brehm. —

Michigan State nursing student Julia Brunicardi was on her way to a local East Lansing nursing home for her clinical when she suddenly had to turn around. Her class, which was almost entirely hands-on based, would now be held on Zoom due to concerns over COVID-19.

Brunicardi and the rest of her classmates had only attended the nursing home one time out of the three they had planned for the semester. With classes being held virtually, suddenly the nursing home patients they would have interacted with became their own family members, which was challenging for the then-sophomore.

“The only thing I would say I’m nervous about for next semester is that I haven’t practiced on an actual patient,” Brunicardi said. “But, I honestly feel like it wasn’t that hard to transition from in class to online.”

Livia Walberer, who was also a nursing sophomore during the spring semester, said the most challenging part about classes on Zoom was missing the interaction she had with not only patients, but also with her classmates and instructors. 

Students in Introduction to Nursing, like Walberer and Brunicardi, were required to master a head-to-toe physical assessment, which includes heart and lung readings, vital checks and blood pressure measurements. Instead of mastering these skills with each other's help, Walberer had to practice on her mother when classes moved online.

“When we were in class, we got to practice on each other, and that was really helpful because we all knew what we were supposed to be doing, so we could give each other tips and reminders if we were forgetting something, especially on the head-to-toe assessment because it’s a lot to remember,” Walberer said. “I felt like I had to practice a lot more (online). … It ended up being fine, but it was definitely a lot different not being in the lab setting and being able to practice with my classmates and my clinical instructor being there to help us also.”

For nursing junior Josie Brehm, the transition to online classes was more drastic given her curriculum, and lab work was more advanced.


A typical week for Brehm before virtual learning included shadowing a nurse at Sparrow Hospital on Tuesdays, interacting with psychiatric patients and learning about their mental disorders on Wednesdays and visiting a day care to learn about health and safety procedures and child development every other week.

But after virtual learning, things looked a lot different, especially when it came to her clinical that took place in the hospital.

“We would be in the hospital from six in the morning until four in the afternoon, so that’s a lot of time to make up for not able to go into the hospital,” Brehm said. “We did a lot of virtual simulations that our instructors would screen share with us on Zoom and we’d all pitch in our ideas on what should be done.”

Brehm said her instructors based much of the curriculum on showing the students videos of real-world situations they could run into and asking them how they would solve the problems shown.

Despite the changes and lack of hands-on experience the students got in their spring semester classes, all three praised MSU's nursing instructors on their preparation and ability to communicate the curriculum in a way that made them feel prepared for the next step in their nursing education.

“Nothing compares to actually being there and doing it for yourself, so that was definitely a bummer and puts us at a little bit of a disadvantage, but the staff at the nursing school did the best job that they could and I still did learn a ton,” Brehm said. “I hope that we get to go back in the fall just for the sake of feeling ready. Being in the hospital is the best way to learn and apply what you know.”

As for Walberer, she’s still getting the hands-on experience through her job at a nursing home in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Walberer has worked at the nursing home in the past but said procedures are vastly different given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walberer said restrictions are high — residents cannot leave their rooms to congregate for meals, order packages or welcome visitors, and she and other employees get their temperatures checked each day at the door.

“Once it’s in a nursing home, it’s very easy for it to spread from resident to resident, and they really want to prevent that because the elderly population is at a high risk,” Walberer said. “I know it’s hard on (the residents) because it’s just a very different environment. I'm getting used to it. I've been working for a few weeks now, so it’s kind of become the normal, just different.”

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