October 13, 2020
by Meagan Noble, BA(Kin), BScN, RN; Jordan Mackenzie, BSc
The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected everyone in some way. The combination of stressors seems endless – the fear of contracting the virus, losing a job, losing a loved one, and increased workloads for front-line health care workers – just to name a few. Navigating a professional program during COVID-19 is uniquely challenging given the critical stage of career development students face. Additional stressors for professional students are the changes from in-person classes to virtual platforms, clinical placement cancellations, and uncertainty in meeting graduation and licensing requirements. With all of these stressors and times of uncertainty, many professional students search for concrete guidance to overcome such challenges. Employing resilience is the answer.
Resilience has recently experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice; however, the overall definition, characteristics, and usefulness are still up for debate.1 Resilience has been used in myriad ways – many with independent conceptual and analytical frameworks.2 Although it is most frequently employed in cataclysmic events, such as natural disasters, there is general consensus that resilience can be defined as “the ability of an individual to withstand adversity”.3
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered insight into our vulnerabilities and coping strategies that can provide direction into future resilience planning. Resilience is key – not only to navigate a professional program during COVID-19, but also in preparation for the next major health crisis. This article provides insight into how various resilience activities can positively shape professional students during a global pandemic.
Here are five pieces of advice for demonstrating resilience in a professional program during COVID-19:
1. Be Adaptable
The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed how we live, work, and learn. Policies and procedures serving COVID-19 are dynamic in our fluid understanding of the virus. Resilience can be demonstrated by adapting to new policies on short notice and the ability to rebound after a prolonged period of time without using clinical skills.
Keeping up to date with clinical skills can be difficult during COVID-19 due to the lack of lab and clinic hours; however, there are many approaches you can employ to bridge the gap until your next clinical placement. One approach that is proven effective is consulting case studies, a powerful teaching strategy that can impart students with critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.4 Volunteering at a clinic for added exposure can also help while clinical placements are on hold. Dental students can practice techniques on old models and casts, obtain inexpensive hand instruments online, and create makeshift stand-ins. The University of Toronto offers several instructional videos through the Faculty of Dentistry website. Instructional videos can help expand clinical knowledge, teach new techniques, and refresh old ones.
2. Be Optimistic
Extracting the positives in times of uncertainty can be difficult; however, optimism and a positive sense of self has shown a direct correlation with resilience and psychological well-being.5 If you find it hard to identify the positives, start by recording the lessons you learned when things did not go as planned. Continuously reflect and review this strategy to help engage in optimism.
Another effective strategy to employ optimism is to find a pastime you enjoy. Individuals with social and active pastimes have been shown to display higher levels of optimism than those with sedentary interests.6 If your hobby is affected by physical distancing, try something new or be creative with an old pastime. For example, running outside or walking up stairs during gym closures can be a creative cardio strategy. The more optimism you have, the easier it will become to conquer adversity – thereby, demonstrating resilience.
3. Maintain and Strengthen Connections
Resilience can be demonstrated by stable, committed relationships.7 Recognize that physical distancing does not equate to social distancing. Maintaining and strengthening connections with family and friends is encouraged. Call, video chat, or email the people you care for to prioritize genuine connection. Connecting with like-minded people can help decrease stress, protect our emotional well-being, and remind us that we are not alone.
Strengthening the connection with yourself can also be valuable during this unprecedented time. Acknowledging and accepting your emotions can foster self-discovery. Techniques such as reflective journaling and mindfulness can help strengthen sense of self and reduce anxiety.8 Reflective journaling promotes resiliency by giving us pause to process emotion and thought, appreciate multiple perspectives, and be more in tune with ourselves.
4. Be Patient
During these turbulent times, many aspects of our daily lives have changed – making delays inevitable. Being patient and adapting to difficulties, delays, and long wait times can aid in demonstrating resilience. Those who have not adjusted to new policies or procedures may work slower than usual. Plan for longer wait times – even for mundane tasks such as going to the grocery store. Professional programs will experience additional changes in the upcoming fall semester. Recognize these academic changes may take time as some faculty decisions are dependent on government policy.
5. Be Disciplined
Studying at home can be flooded with distractions, making it difficult to stay motivated and committed to the task at hand; however, self-discipline can help overcome adversity and achieve success – thereby, demonstrating resilience. Although academic deadlines have been flexible and course instructors have been accommodating during the COVID-19 pandemic, continued discipline can aid in meeting your expectations to graduate. If you have extra time, use it to hone in on clinical knowledge, skills, and building your resume.
Acknowledging your inclinations and eliminating distractions is key to self-discipline. These days, smartphones tend to be the biggest distractor for professional students. Putting your smartphone on “Airplane” mode or “Do Not Disturb” while working on a task can aid in eliminating distractions and promoting self-discipline. Setting a daily routine with a definitive plan and having an accountability partner are also helpful tools in establishing discipline. Moreover, setting a definitive study period each day can help provide balance, accomplishment, and promote a healthier sleep schedule. Check emails regularly, set reminders, and create lists or schedules as it is easy to forget when you are not regularly engaging with your peers. Lastly, do not forget to reward yourself. Treating yourself to something after completing a task can aid in motivation – leading to better self-discipline and resilience.
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About the Authors
Meagan Noble, is a Master of Nursing, Nurse Practitioner student at the University of Toronto with a background in emergency nursing and dental anesthesia. She enjoys helping others and travelling the world.