Spring 2020. The world is frozen, horrified at the rising tide of the Coronavirus pandemic. Healthcare workers are still working nonstop, and nursing students are desperately wishing they could be there to help.
But with clinical rotations and even on-campus coursework suspended, the only thing future nurses could do was try to find ways to connect with – and show their support for – the people on the front lines who had become their mentors, teachers, and, above all, friends.
At Galen College of Nursing’s Louisville campus, Sharon Evans, then a 4th-quarter ADN student and National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) chapter president, was discussing the problem with Constance Cruse, a Spring 2020 BSN graduate and 2019 NSNA President.
“The Galen students couldn’t be in the hospital, and nurses were so isolated … so we were thinking ‘There has to be a way we can show support, and (the clinical sites) can still have this experience with a Galen student,’” Sharon says. “How can we reach out to the community? What can we do to still have a presence in the hospital, build morale, and keep a presence among the doctors and nurses?”
Then Constance, who has a 6-year-old son, thought of “Flat Stanley,” the traveling paper-cutout hero of the popular children’s “Flat Stanley Project.” She’d recently accepted an RN position with Norton Audubon Hospital, and from her SNAP work in the Audubon ER, she remembered “Flat Henry” – a stand-up photo of the hospital’s therapy dog who had to stay home during the lockdown, too.
That’s how the Galen NSNA “Flat Students” were born. And it didn’t take long to figure out how to put them to work.
“I work with nurses who love to teach, and they want to teach … so I thought ‘What if the Flat Students went in to work with me?’” Constance says. “What if we took them into these situations to show Galen students our nurses are still willing to be there for us, and also that we’re supporting them? What if we show our support, and thank them and say we’ve missed being there with them?”
Things just took off from there. Sharon and Constance worked with Galen’s marketing team to create the cutouts, and Constance took them into work with her. She says the Flat Students turned a day on the front lines into a day of real fun. She photographed her co-workers interacting with the Flat Students – “I can see you smiling behind your masks!” she said – while they worked on shift reports, patient care, and other clinical activities. One of the Flat Students was even kitted out in PPE for a photo!
Now, the Flat Students are taking on lives of their own. According to Sharon, since their debut in the Norton Audubon ER, NSNA members have taken Flat Students to several other facilities – always accompanied by treats – with even greater adventures planned.
“It’s really been a team effort. That’s what NSNA is all about, too – it’s about teamwork, building relationships and using them to be involved in the community,” Sharon says. “It was brainstorm of love. Constance came up with a great idea, and it’s been great to watch it go.”
So, watch for future “Flat Student” appearances in healthcare facilities near you. They’re a sign that Galen College students truly value their teachers and mentors, and that even when they can’t be there in person to get hands-on experience, they can continue to be there in spirit, sharing their love of nursing and their pride in the people who answer the call.