Despite having a class of students from various parts of the world and from different backgrounds, Ryan Sullivan said he and his classmates in the Aberdeen accelerated nursing program have developed into a family. The Aberdeen site is one of four sites for South Dakota State University's College of Nursing.
Sullivan and his classmates have held designated social time through Zoom to replace the in-class rapport lost due to social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The faculty members are invited to attend.
“After being in class everyday together and having that taken away, we were all in a state of shock,” Sullivan said. “After a week, we were reminded how much we meant to each other, and it was discussed how to stay in touch with everyone in a group setting. We discussed it as a group and now are trying to do it regularly.”
Instructor Anne Buttolph said she, her peers and the accelerated students had a class meeting before the social distancing took place and then again on the first Monday of online learning.
“That second meeting helped alleviate many of the students’ fears and gave them an opportunity to ask questions,” she said. “I think that meeting facilitated getting them to communicate and kept the camaraderie going. We have a great class; they’re the right class to go through something like this, as far as overall camaraderie and grit.”
The first social meeting was March 24 and the April 1 session had the participants having only one minute to find a costume to wear for the session.
“We cover many different topics from school to the difference in weather from South Dakota to California. When watching lectures online, some students are in tank tops in the sun while it is snowing in other places,” he said.
“We have so many different walks of life from all over the country—pharmacists from Jamaica, groups of Californians, locals and much more,” said Sullivan, who is from Bemidji, Minnesota, and found the Aberdeen accelerated program via a Google search. “Everyone has a unique story and skills to bring to the table. I have done EMT programs that were structured like this and when everyone is going through the program together, they turn into family. I also enjoy how we are immersed into the content every day; it is the best way I learn.”
Ensuring the students learn has changed the way they’re being taught now, according to Buttolph.
“We’re discovering that teaching in smaller groups is easier in Zoom. While it means we might have to do some things multiple times, the quality is better for the students,” she said, citing Lyncee Monsoon has been innovative in teaching the skills laboratory class. “Lyncee’s been great showing the skills needed via Zoom. Before the students left, they were able to take their skills bags home so they’re submitting video to show they know the steps to perform a safe procedure. We also have plans in place to give them practice time in lab when can come back to class so they’re confident when it’s time for clinicals.
“Since we don’t have spring break, we were fortunate to be on campus when decisions were being made. That allowed us to be able to plan ahead to make sure the students got the best bang for their buck before having to leave,” Buttolph continued. “Everyone—students, faculty, administration—have been amazing; everyone is going in with right mindset, a ‘How do we make this happen?’ attitude. It’s been a great team to be a part of.”
After graduation in December, Sullivan would like to work in critical care in Grand Forks, North Dakota, or Rochester, Minnesota. That interest has stayed steady despite the pandemic and its impact on health care employees.
“I have always wanted to work in the critical care setting so COVID-19 has not changed that, except it just solidified my decision where I wanted to work,” he said. “COVID-19 has opened my eyes to how important our critical care is inside the hospitals. The only thing this has changed for me is it has given me the push to want to do CRNA school afterward.”
In the meantime, Sullivan is looking forward to upcoming Zoom meetings.
“We all have each other’s backs in ways we would not know existed and that’s what makes our class so great. We cover for each other and still study with one another,” he said. “I would like to see us stay consistent with these meetings as this pandemic could last for some time. There are still going to be struggles in the future, and we know they are coming. These meetings make it easier to get through those struggles.
“Our instructors Linda Burdette, Lori Hendrickx, Anne Buttolph, Lyncee Monsoon, Heidi Pelzel and academic advisors Sara Olson and Kylie Waldo have been unbelievable. They have answered our many phone calls at any time of the day, changed the schedule around to best fit us and continue to teach at such a high level in this trying time,” Sullivan continued. “We would not be able to keep this program going without our instructors. This program is so successful because they are here, and I would highly recommend this program to anyone solely based on our instructors and academic advisors—they are like family to us!”