Nursing perspectives, at a pivotal moment for nation
UNCG has a proud nursing heritage. Its undergraduate bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program is rigorous, with an N.C. licensing “pass rate” to prove it: 93% of the Spartan students pass it on the first attempt. The program – with many first-generation or non-traditional students – is supportive, with a degree completion rate of 98%. And once they are done, they are in high demand, with an employment rate of 99%. They have the knowledge and skill needed in diverse health care settings.
As the statewide “stay at home” order was issued on March 27, UNCG Magazine reached out to Susan Safran ’77 and Jana Welch Wagenseller ’76, both former nurses who received their BSN from UNCG. They both have made a large impact in health care in our state.
Safran, who founded CPR Consultants Inc., served as chair of the UNCG Board of Trustees. She received the 2019 School of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award. Wagenseller advanced to be associate director of the cancer network at Duke University Health System. She received UNCG’s Minerva Award for Distinguished Service.
We also reached out to Dr. Robin Remsburg, dean of the School of Nursing, and Associate Dean Audrey Snyder, who has been point person for the nursing school’s coronavirus information outreach. They each shared their thoughts on this challenging moment in time for those in health care.
What are the biggest challenges for nurses, in the midst of this epidemic?
Remsburg: The biggest is doing what they have been trained and educated to do – respond to emergencies – when much is unknown and chaos abounds. With rapid spread of the virus and accompanying critical illness, the entire health system is overwhelmed. The lack of essential supplies makes an adequate response even more challenging. Nurses want to do their very best. They are not satisfied with anything less.
Wagenseller: It is the not knowing who is infected, fear for their patients, their families and themselves, the unknown trajectory of the disease, exposed deficiencies in trusted health care systems and government and the lack of personal protective equipment. Yet surrounded with these new unpredictable situations, the nurses are still there. They show up for their patients, because that is what they do.
Are there enough nurses in our society?
Snyder: There are great geographic disparities in the availability of nurses and other health professionals. The rural areas are frequently health professional shortage areas and have a smaller workforce. There are challenges in educating both new nurses and nurses with higher degrees. There is a shortage of nursing faculty nationwide.
Safran: One of nursing’s main roles is education of patients and the public, from hospital to doctor’s office, home care and schools, to industry and beyond. Lack of nurses means lack of knowledge for the patient and the loved one caring for them. This lack of knowledge means readmissions, medical crises at home, and many more emergency room visits that could have been prevented.
What role in our nation’s health do nursing schools like UNCG’s play?
Remsburg: We, as all the other schools across the country, must find ways to continue to produce new nurses and advance practice nurses during these challenging times. We must find ways to deliver high quality instruction that helps students achieve their learning objectives. Students need to meet licensure and certification eligibility requirements. We need to keep the pipeline open and producing. This requires a great deal of ingenuity.
Snyder: We educate future health professionals to work as part of interdisciplinary teams. Doctoral students conduct research that influences practice. Educating and graduating nurse practitioners will result in more primary care providers. Nursing schools help with capacity building.
How will the new building help, as we look to the future?
Remsburg: The pandemic has forced us to think about and prepare for worst-case scenarios. As we prepare to move into a state-of-the-art educational building with new and evolving technologies, we are already learning how to operate differently, using technology in new and innovative ways.
Safran: The new building will foster the education styles with more open space for group work. Simulation labs will be there – we already have some – and this gives students the opportunity to be “hands on” before touching live patients. And much of the building is for labs for chemistry and biology. UNCG was running over 150% capacity in our labs – with an impact that many of our health-focused students were not able to get into a required course due to the large number of students for few spaces.
Safran: There is a shortage of personal protective supplies for health care workers. I was a young nurse in the late ’70s when the AIDS epidemic struck. We didn’t know what was wrong with these very sick patients when we began to get them in the hospital. As we learned about the disease, we learned how to protect ourselves. I remember the fear in the beginning of the epidemic. I imagine the nurses caring for the COVID-19 patients feel this fear, many times over, but do as we did: You gear up and provide the care the patient needs.
Wagenseller: When asked by my son if I was scared of COVID-19, I explained through a lesson that I learned at the UNCG School of Nursing: I told him that I was not afraid of it, but I respected it for what it was and what it could do. That way I could face it with my knowledge and skill.
These are unprecedented times, but this is what we signed up for when we became nurses. Our mission as nurses is to promote well-being and serve the health needs of our communities.– Dr. Robin Remsburg ‘82 MSN, dean of the School of Nursing
The School of Nursing made huge leaps nationally in the U.S News & World Report’s 2021 rankings.
- UNCG’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program moved up 23 spots to No. 47.
- UNCG’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program jumped 22 spots to No. 48.
- UNCG is one of only three North Carolina universities with both an MSN program and a DNP program ranked in the top 50.
- Additionally, UNCG is No. 14 nationally among Best Online Master’s in Nursing programs, per the 2020 rankings.
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Email interviews and editing by Mike Harris, final days of March, 2020.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Robin Remsburg ’82 MSN, Dr. Audrey Snyder, Jana Welch Wagenseller ’76 and Susan Morris Safran ’77.