KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Amid a global pandemic and a nationwide shortage of nurses, many nursing schools are shifting the focus of the curriculum to make sure students are graduating with the tools to help them focus on self-care.
Annie Nelson is a nursing student here at the University of Tennessee's College of Nursing. Now in her senior year, this 22-year-old is getting ready to graduate. And she’s already feeling the strain of being a nurse.
"It's just been a lot to manage," Nelson explained.
When nearby UT Medical Center hit record low staffing levels a few months ago, students like Nelson were suddenly called in to help. As part of a new pilot program between UT and the emergency room, students are being tapped to help with a severe nationwide shortage of nurses.
"They ask me to come in all the time and I feel bad saying no; it's really become a lesson in how do I prioritize?" she said.
Working in a real hospital in the middle of a pandemic has taught these students a lot. The health care workforce has seen major declines in the last few months.
With burnout rates for nurses across the country incredibly high right now, nursing schools are trying to better prepare students for when they go into the world
A few hundred kids graduate from the program each year, but many end up leaving health care after only one or two years.
"We are really trying to educate the next generation of nurses as to how can you take care of yourself," said Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the college of nursing.
As a result, professors here have shifted their focus. Aspiring nurses are still being taught how to start an IV, but they are also learning the importance of self-care.
"It’s hard for them to think they have to give to themselves. The message we’re trying to provide is you have to take care of yourself. You won’t last in this profession if you don’t," Niederhauser added.
The hope is that when students like Annie Nelson get full-time jobs, they’ll be better able to manage the pressures of being a nurse.
"Putting myself first has been an issue and a challenge at these times, but I have to put myself first in order to take care of other people," Nelson said.