By Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN
Dean, UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing

The current times are changing life as we have known it. In recent weeks, we have all been challenged to rely more than ever on technology and the digital world as many people in businesses and organizations are working remotely. The last time the world faced such a health crisis was in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Understandably, the world was not as interconnected as we are now. We are fortunate to have the technology in place to keep us informed and moving forward.

The School of Nursing at UT Health San Antonio is rising to this challenge. As part this region’s only academic health center, we are embracing this moment. Our faculty, staff and administrators have put in place continuity plans to keep our academic operations running. Our technological capabilities allow us to provide classes and clinical simulation learning experiences, which are now brought to our learners virtually through online meeting spaces. It’s extraordinary to see our school responding in such positive ways to address the local public health needs as we work together to make the online transition for courses.

Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, at podium
Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN
Dean, UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing

Meanwhile, we are nearing graduation and our school is planning something special to celebrate the next generation of nurses who will enter the workforce. Our graduates are ready to advocate for patients and do what nurses are most known for—being there for patients in not only the best of times, but also the most difficult of times.

While it is challenging to recreate the level of enthusiasm our students experience when crossing the graduation stage, we see our students engaging in ways that define the very reasons why 2020 is the Year of the Nurse. Our undergraduate and graduate students are volunteering at COVID-19 test sites and screening stations. They and their faculty are working with clinical partners in San Antonio to ensure public health and safety. Together, our faculty and students are living daily the most precious of our missions—social justice—as we provide care to our community.

Last year, when we celebrated our 50th anniversary of our academic program, we honored friends of the School of Nursing who have contributed their time and gifts to bring our school to the forefront of academic nursing. In these trying times, our gratitude is immeasurable because their gifts have also made it possible for many of our students to graduate this spring and summer and enter the workforce. It is reassuring to know that our graduates are part of a generation of nurses who will be on the front lines of public health in the many ways our curriculum emphasizes their academic nursing life.

As our School of Nursing continues receiving new cohorts for the upcoming semesters, we remain focused on our missions of teaching, research and patient care, which are core to academic nursing. I am grateful for our faculty practice, Wellness 360, which provides primary and acute care to our campus and local community, for their expeditious response and setup of a COVID-19 call center hotline to screen and provide care for employees and students. In a matter of days, Wellness 360 was running the hotline, staffed by our faculty, who again rose to the challenge. We are conducting COVID-19 screening for the UT Health San Antonio campus community.

Our researchers at the School of Nursing are transitioning to conduct virtual studies and are refocusing on grant writing to secure the resources necessary for nursing science, building evidence-based practice and improving health outcomes for people with chronic conditions, as well as for those caring for people with dementia and aging-related diseases. As COVID-19 is changing our patients’ lives, for example, our nurse scientists are finding virtual solutions through innovation research to support home-bound seniors and their isolated caregivers. I am happy to report that we are uniquely positioned to take up this challenge through the new Center on Smart and Connected Health Technologies.

In these trying times, it can feel as though we are living like pioneers, facing uncertainty and still moving forward. Delivering care to patients in a time of uncertainty is exactly what the pioneer of nursing, Florence Nightingale, did when she walked the battlefields during war and cared for wounded soldiers.

Nursing is a calling. As we see our faculty, students and staff respond to this crisis with passion and purpose, we remain convinced that we will continue responding to the needs of our community with the pioneering spirit that generations of nurses before us have faced. To all nurses on the frontlines right now, “You’ve got this. It’s who you are. You are a nurse.”