Perhaps unlike many others, my story of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria is one of strength and professional nursing success. Initially, I hesitated to write anything because I did not want to seem insensitive to those who have suffered and experienced true trauma because of the pandemic. After much reflection, I decided that perhaps it would not be a bad thing to write about something positive.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was in the middle of excitedly making plans to travel to Barcelona for NETNEP 2022—the 8th International Nurse Education Conference. Our public hospital team had successfully submitted an abstract on expanding paediatric education in rural areas and had been invited to present at the conference. I was elated for countless reasons and, frankly, I simply did not think that COVID-19 was going to be a big deal. How wrong I was.
When the gravity of COVID-19 truly landed in Melbourne, affecting me and millions of others, I was completely prepared to drop my clinical educator role and go back to fulltime paediatric emergency department work. It certainly felt as though redeployment was likely because of the projected demand in clinical and emergency settings. Days passed and we waited with bated breath to see what might evolve.
At the time, in my clinical educator role, I was part of a team delivering evidence-based and quality paediatric education across the state of Victoria. The team comprised a clinical nurse educator, an allied health educator, a perioperative nurse educator and me. We drove around the state, delivering paediatric study days to nurses and allied health professionals in regional and rural areas. The aim was to enhance their knowledge and confidence in caring for children. From an allied health perspective, various online Zoom videoconferences had already proven successful, and it was the aim to take the same approach for the nursing discipline. COVID-19 saw that process accelerate at rapid speed.
While we waited for the call to clinical and emergency care, we investigated how we could reach our colleagues in regional and rural areas. How could we ensure they were not disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and our inability to travel around the state?
We decided to flip our entire education program, making it completely online. We emailed our key external stakeholders and conducted surveys on their level of interest in webinar or videoconference education. The interest was very high. As a team, we met swiftly and regularly to determine how to make our program best suit the needs of our regional and rural colleagues while still meeting our key performance indicators.
This swift decision making resulted in our education outreach program delivering countless webinars and videoconference education sessions across Victoria throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns. We also reached colleagues in Tasmania and other states across Australia and had international audiences too.
We found a way to record and upload our education sessions to a platform where they could be freely accessed by health professionals who were unable to attend the sessions in real time. This proved to be a true asset, even beyond the pandemic, for healthcare clinicians who were patient-facing and whose shift work meant they couldn’t access education. We received consistent praise and positive feedback for our program, with participants praising how accessible it was, how it increased their confidence in managing unwell children, and how it reached regional areas where there was real need.
The process of flipping the program to be completely online enhanced internal relationships in the hospital, with our medical education team for example. These stronger relationships helped us pool and share resources and so produce important outreach tools like podcasts to help health professionals wanting to learn more about best-practice clinical care for children and their families. The program was also instrumental in piloting an external learning management system for the hospital.
I would be lying if I said all these changes were easy. Flipping the entire program required grit, hard work, attention to detail and, above all, collaboration and teamwork. Adjusting to working from home after years of working clinically and being an introverted extrovert was profoundly challenging. Some days did feel exceedingly long and arduous, full of countless Zoom meetings and sessions, staring at colleagues and friends on a screen who seemed like they were on the other side of the globe rather than mere kilometres away. I learnt that in many ways my body preferred clinical work and the movement it provided. The flip to being so much more sedentary has been less than kind in terms of kilos and upper back tightness!
Yet through it all, the sense of collaboration and camaraderie in such difficult times was overwhelmingly profound and beautiful. I never once felt alone and I never felt that what we were aiming to do was unachievable. I worked with people whose positivity and determination stirred the same within me. Throughout a time of great adversity, when all seemed stark and grim, that little light at the end of the tunnel just kept on shining and allowed us to find our way through.