UNLV School of Nursing student Valerie Barboa is spending her commencement week just like other graduating students this semester: At home.
For Barboa, this caps off a school year that ended with her completing her doctor of nursing practice requirements, but she refuses to let the novel coronavirus outbreak erase what she has already earned.
“In my mind, I graduated the day I defended my project,” she said. “It allowed me to extend my project to others to hear my message, and that is more important to me than commencement.”
A lifetime culminates in project
It took Barboa more than a year of research just on her doctorate project, not to mention the years of academia and professional work building up to this.
She was ready for this moment, a career path that started when she was 3 years old. She developed a platelet disorder and was taken to the doctor. As her blood was drawn, Barboa says she was fascinated with the process.
But nursing wasn’t her first choice: she started out wanting to be a physician. That lasted until age 17. During her high school anatomy/physiology class, she watched a video about what physicians go through daily, and she wanted something different. So, she redirected her career to nursing, ultimately getting admitted to UNLV’s doctor of nursing practice program. Barboa says she chose the program because of its emphasis on practical lessons for real-life situations.
Correcting a real problem
Barboa eventually chose to work in the intensive care unit, due to its precision detail, advanced knowledge and skills, and rapid changes. But she also zeroed in on a legitimate problem: lack of experience and training among new nurses.
She saw a challenge in the ICU, not just for new nurses and their patients, but also experienced nurses who had to manage both their own patients and new nurses. This lack of preparation and reasoning she read about also factored into high burnout rates for new nurses within their first year.
Barboa created a pilot program to help train new pediatric ICU nurses called the “PICU S.T.E.P: Special Transition Education Program.” She designed a simulation that included hours of training, theories, role playing, and different learning and teaching styles. She was able to pinpoint areas of weakness, like participants not being to find supplies on an airway cart, or not being able to assist with intubation. Barboa also conducted tests before and after the project to gauge the participants’ knowledge.
Barboa, like others on the frontline, is staying busy, but calm, during the coronavirus pandemic.
She says COVID-19 is forcing new nurses to care for complex patients that require them to have advanced knowledge and technical skill, but despite the added tension, Barboa says the young nurses are doing well.
“With the support from experienced nurses and myself, the [new nurses] are pushing through with confidence. I’m glad they were able to go through PICU-STEP because they have extra support from their mentors. Watching them be successful in taking critically ill patients knowing that my DNP project played a part in their success is the most rewarding part for me.”