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A Post-Pandemic Topic in Nursing: Meet Dr. Susan Winslow

Continuing education and professional development opportunities help nurses prepare for the new normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought nursing to a “curious, unusual crossroads,” creating abundant opportunities for healthcare professionals who are ready to embrace change.

So says Dr. Susan Winslow, speaking from vantage point of a 30-plus-year career in nursing and nurse leadership. “It’s an amazing time to step into this profession and really make a difference,” she said in a recent interview with Walden University, “because I think the sky’s the limit.”

Dr. Winslow, who received her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Health Systems Management in 2013, is the system director of professional practice and clinical education for Sentara Healthcare, a not-for-profit health system serving Virginia and North Carolina. Sentara collaborates with Walden University to offer its staff nursing education and professional development opportunities designed to foster employee development and engagement.

Walden’s Business Development team caught up Dr. Winslow for the interview, Post-Pandemic View on Magnet Designation, Clinical Education, and Employee Engagement. Dr. Winslow’s nursing experience includes serving as a system lead for multiple ANCC Magnet® and Pathway to Excellence® designations as well as standardizing evidence-based leadership practices.

In these excerpts from the interview, which is part of Walden’s Inspirational Women in Healthcare series, Dr. Winslow shares her expert and inside view of how the COVID-19 pandemic challenged and is changing nursing and clinical education.

WALDEN: Can you start us off by talking about the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its immediate impact?

DR. WINSLOW: It’s important, I think, to set the stage a little bit about what the world was feeling like. … Whatever your personal beliefs, we had a lot of political energy and awareness on the national landscape. And so that was influencing healthcare decisions and communication already. We were starting to have an increasing awareness about social determinants of health. And a lot of the social unrest movements were starting to really get traction. So, we go into that knowing that healthcare already was moving at what we thought was a pretty swift pace. And then here comes the pandemic. And again, whatever we did or didn’t do, none of us have lived through a pandemic before. Any of our previous experiences with Ebola, AIDS, and even military traumas haven’t really replicated what this pandemic has felt like.

So, as we went into it, thinking about that environment, we knew many of the things that we did, particularly in [nursing] education, didn’t work anymore. … Everything had to change. Normal had to change. But then everything unusual had to change on top of it. So, we were redesigning normal education programs, and getting comfortable on platforms like this. … We [had been] using virtual platforms hardly at all, just for some meetings, and we weren’t very good at it, frankly.

We then also had to design education programs and platforms for what we thought was coming. … We were anticipating thousands or tens of thousands of patients who needed care. … We were watching what was happening in New York City. And we were looking at our own communities thinking, well, if we have thousands of patients show up in an ER, we can’t house them. We canceled everything elective. So overnight, no more elective surgeries, nothing preventative, everything went to telemedicine. And so, we had huge numbers of staff who couldn’t do what they normally did, but we anticipated and were having growing need for the COVID population.

WALDEN: How did you navigate that critical inflection point?

DR. WINSLOW: We had to figure out just-in-time training on the fly, literally over a couple nights. … We had a 28-page RN onboarding competency tool. That wasn’t going to work for us to take our nurses from surgery and the physician practices - to cross-train them to be able to take care of inpatients. So, we got that down to one page over one weekend, I remember. It’s like, what are the critical skills that are needed? All of our materials that were lengthy and beautiful computer-based tutorials didn’t work. We had to shoot just-in-time videos, literally with a ventilator, saying, here are the three things you need to know to be able to support somebody in this case. So, when I think back, I have a lot of pride about how quickly we responded. … Many people worked very well to deal with the situation.

WALDEN: You conducted nursing engagement surveys last year. What did you learn?

DR. WINSLOW: We saw some curious, puzzling changes. What we did see that was very optimistic was the transparency and visibility of leaders was the highest we’ve ever seen it. And that’s because most leaders were out all the time with their staffs, updating the latest CDC guidelines. What’s today's information? What do we know about our PPE supplies? … So, the leader presence, which we need to hang on to, was as strong as we’ve ever seen it.

Interdisciplinary collaboration was also extremely high. When you think of many of the COVID situations, the nurse was the one person who went in the room, the only person that went in the room. They then became in many cases, the physician, the chaplain, the respiratory therapist, the environmental service, the dietary aide, because you couldn’t afford to put PPE on all those individuals. So, the collaboration and some of the really creative technology of people, starting on their cell phones, starting on FaceTime, moving into iPads and other more sophisticated ways of working as a team were really strong.

WALDEN: How do you see the role of a clinical educator evolving in a post-pandemic world?

DR. WINSLOW: Traditional models are probably not going to see us where we need to go into the future. So, for people in those roles, understanding technology, understanding how to deliver content and information in ways that might not have been as comfortable previously, and embracing those modalities of virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning are critical.

Professional development practitioners have to own the outcomes and can no longer say, well, I trained the staff, but if they didn’t do that protocol the right way, that’s really not on me. … It’s the accountability toward the patient and quality and safety. I think … for individuals who work in education and in professional development that the time is right, but it’s going to take new skills. So, exciting time, but there are some challenges there as well in terms of never stopping learning. And I really think the embracing of technology has to be part of all of our futures.

Lifelong Learning and Professional Development for Nurses

Walden partners with hundreds of nursing education-minded healthcare organizations, including Sentara, to help advance their employees’ skills and knowledge.

Features of these higher education partnerships include tuition reduction opportunities and program-specific grants and scholarships;1 nursing continuing education credits and professional development activities;2 and custom learning solutions.

Walden offers a wide range of online programs for nursing to help your workforce achieve your mutual professional goals. There are online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. At the doctoral level, there is an online Doctor of Nursing (DNP) and a PhD in Nursing.

The DNP online degree program offers an Executive Leadership specialization and five in-demand nurse practitioner options. It is accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), with curriculum aligned to the latest standards from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and National League for Nursing.

Use our Partner Finder tool to find out if your organization has a nursing education partnership with Walden. If you’re a decision-maker ready to make healthcare education accessible within your organization, reach out to Walden today.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

1All tuition reductions, grants, or scholarships are subject to specific eligibility requirements. Contact a Walden University Enrollment Specialist for details. Partnerships may provide tuition savings to associated individuals who meet the criteria. Partners do not contribute to curriculum development, and partnerships do not imply preferential treatment of Walden graduates in hiring.
2Walden University is accredited as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation. Provider Unit Number: P0649

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

The baccalaureate degree program in nursing (BSN), master’s degree program in nursing (MSN), post-graduate APRN certificate program, and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Walden University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (