[OPINION] From hospital to online classroom

When my application for regularization was turned down twice – first in 2018 and again in 2019, I knew it was time to go. Though I loved serving as a nurse for more than two years with all my heart and soul in one of the biggest government hospitals in the Philippines, I felt that I could no longer go on serving with the pain I felt inside, all because of a simple mistake. 

I was never married, clearly stating in all my official documents that I was and had always been single, that I had a German father hence the foreign surname. 

Unfortunately for me, I was told that I wasn’t considered for regularization because they believed I would only end up working abroad, since I was “married to a foreigner.” In the end, it was simply dismissed as a “misunderstanding” about my family name. But for me, it was a major heartbreak.

Fast-forward to 8 months later. I received a Facebook message from a hospital friend. In that message was a photo of a job advertisement from my alma mater, San Pedro College, calling for new clinical instructors. Initially, I had planned on pursuing masteral studies first before applying for hospital work again somewhere else, but the opportunity to teach in my old college was a wonderful idea and I didn’t want to give it up that easily.

After a few clicks and some typing, I came up with my application overnight and had it sent immediately, along with digital copies of my documents. Within a month I had my interview, my pre-employment exams, my teaching demo, and then my medical check-up. Everything happened so fast that at one point, I thought that I was dreaming. Why? Back in my old workplace, it would take more than a year before a job applicant could hear from the HR office – that is, without an insider’s assistance! 

Before getting employed by San Pedro College, I felt depressed and reached a point wherein I questioned my very existence as a nurse. Part of what I was feeling also came from the time I was heavily criticized by a few people for my decision to leave the hospital. Back then, I felt that the only venue to achieve fulfillment as a nurse was within the 4 walls of a hospital, and I defined my whole existence on that belief, which turned out to be detrimental to my mental well-being. All that changed, however, when I was accepted by my old school, and ever since that day, my life has never been the same.

It was in September 2020 (the ninth month following my hospital departure), when I had my official orientation as a clinical instructor, together with 5 other nurses. Having a new job, a new role, and a new work environment made me feel like I was reborn – that I had a new purpose as a nurse. Due to the COVID-19 situation, we had to face the new challenge of teaching nursing online, something no one expected to happen. Part of that challenge was getting out of our comfort zones, internet-wise. The internet would no longer be just for enjoying social media and digital content. We had to start embracing it fully as our greatest tool for sharing knowledge to our future colleagues during the “new normal.”

During my first two weeks, I struggled with connectivity issues. I got disconnected every now and then from online sessions with senior clinical instructors, missing out on important points during discussions as a result. Things got better when I decided to purchase a pocket wifi device as my backup internet connection, a necessary expense. Soon however, I realized that even when I was able to secure a better connection, it wasn’t the same for many students, knowing that the speed and stability of their internet connection varied from place to place. Prolonged periods of disconnection due to nationwide technical issues led to fewer classes and limited interaction with students.

In addition, the changes brought on by the new learning system made them experience anxiety, stress, and even depression more often than in traditional learning. This led to many “new normal” students feeling demotivated and frustrated, with gadget limitations and internet connectivity issues adding to their problems. These problems made me even more determined to make the best of my available time and current resources to create memorable and rewarding learning experiences for my students.

One big challenge I had to overcome in my new journey was finding ways to work against the limitations of online education, which called for extra creativity, effort, and flexibility on the part of teachers. For my first student rotation, I recorded myself giving a “Sunday Message” to my students, which I posted on our group chatbox on Messenger. Being shy by nature, it would’ve been more convenient for me to just type my message for them to read on their own, but instead, I wanted them to feel my presence through my voice, for them to remember that they have a living, breathing mentor on the other side of their screens who’s available for them 24/7. Having limited time with my students did not mean I had to limit my teaching engagement with them. In fact, it meant being ready to give more time to them whenever they needed help for learning to take place. 

I’m now on my fifth month as a clinical instructor and I know that I still have a long way to go, especially on how to further develop my teaching techniques and content-making skills. I am no longer an “angel in the sickroom” but now one of the “angels on the keyboards” – a new phrase referring to all nursing faculty leaders, clinical instructors, and student nurses currently taking part in the online learning setup of the “new normal.”

With hospital work, when a nurse is done with a shift, she can just go home, rest, and “shut off" from the experience, although just temporarily. In the academic setting, though, it’s a totally new experience. After dismissing an online class and giving virtual goodbye’s, I realized that a clinical instructor’s work isn’t quite over even after turning off one’s laptop or tablet. Through the power of social media and instant messaging applications, students are now able to get in touch with their teachers, which means that a clinical instructor’s work is a 24/7 commitment.

I always bear in mind that I’m not just working with regular students but STUDENT NURSES – young people coming from different walks of life with the common goal of helping the sick, injured, and dying. And I now have the duty and responsibility to help raise them up and develop their clinical skills for them to become great nurses in the future. Again, back in the hospital, I could only give quality time to just a handful of patients because of the fast-paced work environment, but in my new job as a clinical instructor, I have the opportunity to inspire and motivate future nurses both online and offline.  

Health care and teaching are two noble professions. I consider myself more blessed than ever, because right now, I get to do both. Although I am not directly giving care to those with physical ailments at the moment, I’m currently into healing and strengthening my students’ minds aside from developing their clinical skills, which make me feel more fulfilled. 

My story serves as proof that heartbreak can lead to great joy. Don't get me wrong though, for I'll always be grateful for the experiences, lessons, and memories in my old workplace. My time there simply prepared me for bigger and better things ahead. If you're currently in the same situation I was once in, you can either wait it out or go explore new opportunities. Better days are coming either way. You just need to open your heart to the possibilities and take some risks.

Love serves! – Rappler.com

Johanna Zehender, 30, is a Registered Nurse and writer. She writes to uplift nurses and fellow healthcare workers everywhere. She is currently a clinical instructor at San Pedro College of Davao.