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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News Tribune Latricia Bush measures medication for a dose to be administered during Thursday's class at Lincoln University School of Nursing.

A year ago, most of Lincoln University's students were asked to stay home after spring break once the COVID-19 virus spread across the United States.

However, medical workers, including former and current LU nursing students, were on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic.

The unique challenges presented by the pandemic have already had an effect on the nursing school's approach and curriculum.

Working to counsel, heal and take care of those who are suffering from illness is a subject that these students are learning in real-time, and it is something they take very seriously in the time of COVID-19.

"They, of course, needed to wear (professional protective equipment)," said Ann McSwain, dean of the nursing program. "They had to wear masks and, depending on where they were, goggles or a face shield."

As the head of the nursing program, Dean McSwain has spent many days and nights working to make sure her students, faculty, and patients are taken care of. Graduating seniors who had to continue their studies during the quarantine were kept away from patients who had COVID-19 so they could graduate and take the proper exams and requirements to work in the field.

"I just felt like I needed to keep them as safe as possible," McSwain said. "So, they were not allowed to take care of COVID patients, but they were still in the clinical setting where they could have been exposed."

The pandemic created a large shift in perspective for health care workers. While nursing students were always aware of how crucial medical care could be, watching over those infected with COVID-19 has shown how grave a situation can be.

"It's changed my view on nursing because it really opened up my eyes to how resilient nurses and all other health care workers are," senior nursing student Jenna Luebbering said. "With COVID, nurses had to take on a lot of visitor restrictions and in return had to take on that family role to be there for those patients and hold their hand while many were dying. And I think that is a really important aspect of this to remember."

McSwain said mental wellness for her students and faculty will be a major priority going forward. With many health care workers witnessing deaths due to COVID-19 or being quarantined away from their family, she said it is very important to take mental health very seriously.

"As far as mental wellness is concerned, nursing is changing," she said. "It is a hard field anyway, to begin with, and so adding a pandemic on top of it was just that another deep layer of stress.

"So, we've had the student help therapist come in and connect with our incoming students every semester so that they're aware that there are resources," she said.

McSwain acknowledged she has lightened up on her faculty since the pandemic. Considering many would be in contact with COVID-19, keeping them away from their families, she has made the decision to allow them to teach from home.

"Not only do they have to take care of themselves to take care of their patient, their students, but they also have to go home and take care of their family," she said. "So, their office hours that they used to do in courses are now done via Zoom."

She said faculty can still be of assistance to students depending on what the need is. Some might even find the time to meet in person with a student if it is necessary. But first and foremost, she said, her faculty must be to able to have their personal time with their own families.

McSwain said she is proud of the work the program has produced.

"I am very passionate about what my faculty and students are doing, and I have an awesome group of faculty and students," she said. "You know, I don't know what it's like in the other schools. But these students are the ones that if anybody had a right to complain, it would be them, and I have not heard one.

"They go out there, they take care of these patients, and they're going to make awesome nurses when they get done," she said.

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