How was UCQ doing before COVID-19 hit, and how have you been preparing for the resumption of educational activities?
UCQ was advancing plans for growth in our current programs as well as for new programs. We were planning a master's degree revision and aimed to increase our student numbers by reaching over 800 students by 2023. Like other institutions in Qatar, COVID-19 has impacted our budget and programs, however I am pleased to say we surpassed our revised enrolment target by 6%. We are extremely excited about our new four-year regular track program and continue to educate and support our current post-diploma baccalaureate and masters in nursing students. We have been incredibly resilient in moving to online delivery, assuring the faculty were prepared using the best practices for online teaching and learning. The restrictions associated with COVID varied depending on the course. For example, clinical courses couldn't be conducted at designated timeframes. Our partners have been key in accommodating changes and supporting student progression. The use of virtual simulations has also been an excellent learning addition. Lastly, to assure students were ready for January 2021 clinical, we focused on concentrated skill development to prepare them. To do this, we used our spaces appropriately with the help of masks, gowns, and physical distancing. COVID-19 has not only resulted in looking at teaching and learning, but also in applying best practices in our facility and assuring alignment with Ministry guidelines. Today, every student attending laboratories, or undergoing practical upskilling experiences, is being taught in an environment that fully meets COVID-19 restrictions. While challenging, COVID-19 has resulted in innovation in course development and delivery. It has resulted in innovative theory and clinical experiences to support the State of Qatar COVID-19 activities such as vaccination and triaging. Our partners have helped ensure we are not paralyzed by the crisis. We are learning and accommodating together. For example, faculty have volunteered with the Ministry of Public Health and Primary Health Care Corporation to assist in their efforts to fight COVID-19. We hope the current spotlight on nursing continues. Over this past year, I had the opportunity to meet with employees to explore the teaching and operational challenges they faced, what they saw as important for growth, and to learn more about their innovative practices. For UCQ, blended approaches of teaching and learning is the way forward. This, coupled with innovation, evidence and commitment, is a recipe for excellence in nursing education.
How can you prepare your new graduates to react to and manage this kind of crisis?
Preparing for crisis requires an understanding of how crisis impacts people's lives, social educational and health care systems. Crisis is about adaptation, understanding change, learning and collective efforts to reach common goals. It is about assisting students to think critically about the crisis and consider: who is impacted by the crisis, what structures and processes require alteration, what might be unintended consequences and what are the outcomes we want to measure, in order to better understand our success and areas of improvement.
What skills can be taught through virtual simulations and laboratories, and will you go back to more traditional learning practices post-COVID-19?
There is a digital platform that the students sign into, and this enables a great deal of skill assessments and critical thinking. For example, students are taken through a scenario for a patient with heart failure. This virtual simulation platform has worked out well, and the students have enjoyed using it. Future learning post-COVID-19 will be a combination of traditional teaching and new digital tools. Going forward, I see a blend of learning techniques; that is the way of the future. We cannot forget the importance of social interactions for students, as these teaching methods are complementary.
How do you see the rise of the private healthcare sector in Qatar impacting the future of UCQ's graduates?
Reaching out to private healthcare is an opportunity. We have to work closely with the sector, as we do with our partners at SIDRA, Primary Health Care Corporation and Hamad Medical Corporation. We look forward to further collaborations with these entities so that we can understand where they are going and what skill sets their current and future employees need. This also includes looking at what their people will need for their continuing professional development (CPD). It is also about us having students in those organizations and ensuring there are individuals in the organization who can support our students.
Qatar has been named one of the world's top five healthcare systems. What role does nursing, which is sometimes an overlooked profession, play in this achievement?
Nurses are on the frontline—they are at the coalface for patients, families, and communities. Nursing is about promoting wellness through transitions of acute illness and supporting management and self-management for patients and families with chronic conditions. Nurses are also key in influencing policy and system transformation to support excellent integrated care. We have a world-class education system to make sure these students are competent and can meet the demands of care. During COVID-19, nurses are being called heroes. They have entered unusual conditions where they are giving everything in terms of long hours being on the frontline and supporting families who are struggling with their loved ones being unwell. It has put a spotlight on the importance of nursing. There has been a great deal of learning around COVID-19 as a disease and its economic and societal impact. Nurses are heroes, but they also work in partnership with all the allied healthcare professionals. COVID-19 has spotlighted all healthcare workers and their dedication, and it takes a team. That is the contribution of nursing to the excellence of Qatar's healthcare system.
What are UCQ's immediate strategic priorities?
Given that UCQ has a brand-new curriculum, our immediate priority is its full implementation. It is an exciting, progressive, evidence-based concept and competency-based curriculum that has enhanced clinical opportunities, that addresses population health needs and that continues to be positioned within the local context. A second priority is to continue with UCQ's Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program. To add to our vaccination program, we have a new inter-professional program where we are training pharmacists, physicians, and nurses to work in teams around vaccinations. We just received a three-year accreditation for that program and are extremely excited about it. We also have an Emerging Teaching Certificate, which is about building capacity for teaching both in our faculty and also in the community with nurse educators. An important priority for UCQ is building capacity in the State of Qatar with people who will stay in the country. Moving forward, we are also examining new education delivery modes, including revenue generating, shared-cost, reinvestment options, and stackable certificates that lead to degrees for professionals.