JACKSON – It wasn’t too long ago that Dr. Natalie McKee took part in classroom exercises that resembled the current reality for nursing instructors and the healthcare community as a whole.

“My specialty is public health nursing,” said McKee, who finished up her third year this past semester instructing in the Associate Degree Nursing program at Hinds Community College Jackson Campus-Nursing/Allied Health Center. McKee, a Raymond resident and a St. Mary’s, W. Va. native, is also an Air Force reservist and clinical nurse for the 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.

Dr. Natalie McKee, standing, talks to students during a session inside the TechNest at the Jackson Campus-Nursing/Allied Health Center. McKee is a reservist in the Air Force and a clinical nurse in the 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. (Courtesy of Dr. Natalie McKee)

“In 2016, for my doctorate at a military installation, I completed a quality improvement project on influenza surveillance. Earlier in the spring 2020 semester, I taught the students about pandemic influenza. We discussed social distancing, the importance of immunizations, the likelihood of supplies diminishing, and that work schedules would have to be adjusted during a pandemic.”

That experience proved vital in ways she wouldn’t have dreamed come mid-March, as the spring semester was interrupted on college campuses statewide amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hands-on career and technical education courses including nursing shifted to online delivery, which for fourth-semester nursing students meant doing required clinicals with virtual patients instead of actual visits. In-person instruction has since resumed at Hinds in academic and career-tech courses where hands-on instruction is necessary for proper licensure.

“Students were given a report on their clients and had to decide which nursing interventions to employ to care for the clients,” she said. “For example, they could choose to perform an assessment, view medical orders, administer medications, reposition the client, ask the client questions to gather more information, contact a healthcare provider to share information or contact a healthcare provider to obtain new orders. They also practiced their documentation skills as part of doing online clinicals, noting important details such as nursing care plans and the patient’s vital signs.”

It was as much a learning experience for both teacher and student in McKee’s class, but she was there every step of the way to ensure success.

“Nothing about going from a hospital clinical setting to an online virtual simulation was ideal,” said third-semester student Jessica Williams, of Brandon, a licensed pharmacy tech who already had bachelor’s degrees in psychology and history before pursuing an RN credential she’s on track to earn from Hinds next fall. “However, teachers like Dr. McKee did their very best to choose simulations that complemented our testing material. Her lectures were equally as engaging and enthusiastic as she was in the classroom setting.”

“I literally only took one day off while working remotely from home,” she said. “I am very methodical when I work and wanted everything to be right for the students. I spoke with all of my clinical students on the phone to help them to write their professional nursing papers, and I encouraged them to contact me if they had any questions on the material that was being taught.”

McKee enjoys teaching but is also prepared to enter the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 on a different level if need be. “Being a clinical nurse in the Air Force Reserve, I am prepared both mentally and with my job in case I get activated to assist with the COVID-19 crisis.”

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