Foreseeable Updates to Healthcare Curricula

Team of doctors stand together with masks

Upon reflections from COVID-19 and projections that similar threats are now a part of our global reality, academicians need to rescript the education of future frontline providers.  A practicable start would be to renew curricula and teaching methods currently employed in heath science disciples.

Listed below are content updates faculties might consider in developing tomorrow’s curricula.  Hopefully these recommendations stimulate dialogue and generate novel ideas relevant to today’s changing healthcare systems.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) updates

Ebola and COVID-19 limited the comfort level of many healthcare workers in applying and removing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Much of this discomfort stemmed from limited practice time using the equipment.

One initiative for keeping healthcare students updated on proper PPE usage is building activities into curricula wherein students frequently practice applying and removing PPE.  These self-checks need to be threaded in curricula and flow across semesters.  Annually, students should partake in simulated, on-campus, multidisciplinary experiences (e.g., managing communities exposed to life-threatening viruses) focusing on the proper usage of PPE, and caring for individuals in mock biocontainment and quarantine units.  PPE must also become part of each student’s professional attire so usage becomes second nature and students do not have to rely on availability of supplies at clinical facilities.

Available lesson plan: Back to Basics: Precautions Against Germ Transmission

Telehealth updates

Students in healthcare disciples learn principles of telemedicine and telehealth but do not always receive consistent practice time conducting visits with these modalities. Because of equipment cost, schools typically depend on hands-on experiences with this type of technology during clinical practicums. Unfortunately, such opportunities vary amid facilities. Some students could graduate not having conducted a single virtual patient-provider encounter.  Lacking these types of hands-on experiences could make graduating practitioners less marketable to potential employers.

With a bit of creativity and obtainability of resources, faculties can offer students practice time conducting simulated telehealth and telemedicine patient experiences.  During the early phase of the COVID pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act allocated millions in telehealth funds to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 by providing telecommunication services.”  Colleges and universities were included in the act.  Faculties can look for similar funding opportunities and/or partner with private entities (e.g., telecommunication companies) to obtain state-of-the art virtual equipment for student practice.

Available lesson plan: Patient Encounters with LEP Individuals Using Digital Interpreting Devices

Robotic technology updates

Another area students need greater exposure is with robotic technology. As the healthcare industry strives to find creative care approaches for infectious individuals, and protect staff from unnecessary exposures, some care now performed by humans could be shouldered by robots.  Therefore, academicians need to expose students to the art of robotic-infused healthcare. 

Practice exposure updates

With shifting best practices and new care protocols stemming from COVID-19, major learning curves exist for today’s practitioners.  For healthcare educators who maintain little to no direct practice hours, their knowledge of the changing healthcare environment could be limited.  In turn, such minimal practice exposure could adversely impact what up-to-date knowledge faculties have to share with students.    

Perhaps, clinicians working directly with today’s pandemic patients should be invited to share first-hand knowledge. Additionally, academicians lacking such novel experiences should seek new clinical opportunities to update their level of knowledge.

Evidence-based practice updates

In crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, teams composed of different interdisciplinary members come together to blend their knowledge and tackle care issues.  Knowing evidence-based practice findings suggest positive patient outcomes when interdisciplinary focused care is utilized. Healthcare curricula need to include more student exposure to interdisciplinary teaching and related care models.

Integrating an interdisciplinary teaching approach offers financial benefits for academic institutions.  For example, if faculties are shared across healthcare programs they can teach combined courses, rather than individual courses.  If students from different disciplines take generic courses together (anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, research/evidence-based practice, etc.) sharing of students and content could be economically sounder for academic institutions; particularly, if standardized online courses are utilized.  Not only should students be exposed to interdisciplinary teaching in the classroom but should be provided opportunities to work in interdisciplinary teams in practice settings.

Leadership dynamic updates

Most healthcare programs currently include content related to leadership dynamics.  Some schools of higher education offer degrees in healthcare leadership.  Perhaps with all the uncertainties encompassing COVID-19, the time is right for healthcare programs to evaluate whether their present leadership content covers such challenges as: leading during times of national pandemics and global disasters, managing when there are insufficient medical supplies/resources, surviving economic deficits, and functioning with decreased numbers of frontline healthcare providers.

Educators need to reflect on a number of emerging questions. What are the leadership challenges learned from COVID-19?  How can future healthcare clinicians assuming leadership roles guide their organizations through these challenges?  Is content related to fostering critical reasoning and creative thinking included in the curricula to assist future practitioners in tackling the challenges and uncertainties of the world?  Once analyzed, educators then need to tweak curricula accordingly.

Health specialty program updates

Perhaps now is the time for healthcare faculties to consider adding new majors or additional certificate programs within their health science disciplines.  One area needing growth is mental health specialties.  Experts envisage a significant number of COVID related PTSD concerns for both healthcare providers and the public.  Therefore, healthcare programs such as nurse practitioner or physician assistant programs might consider additional psychiatric or mental health tracks. 

Some epidemiologists are projecting future pandemic waves.  With this in mind, there will be an increased need for public health workers trained in dealing with such crises.  Thus, more educational institutions might want to look at offering students specializations or certifications in public health.

Faculties need to review their curricula for inclusion of concepts that frontline practitioners define as essential for tackling future global health crises.  If the content is already taught, faculties should evaluate whether the material needs updating or revising. Content should include theoretical principles and practicum experiences as applicable. Examples of topics for consideration include: public healthcare, population health management, global healthcare, viral pathogenesis, infectious disease management, immunology and microbiology, epidemiology, disaster/pandemic management, clinical trial protocol related to drug and vaccine development, family dynamics during home “lockdown” situations, ethical and moral distress, grief counseling during disaster management, mental health concerns during crises, feelings of personal threat, and experience with emerging technology such as Blue Dot that provides real-time insights into disease mobility and anticipated pathogen outbreaks.

Aesthetic principle updates

Do frontline providers graduate from academic programs understanding the importance of aesthetic modalities of care?  Not having much experience with aesthetic principles of care can explain why some COVID practitioners find themselves feeling emotionally exhausted addressing human needs beyond conventional physical care.   

Teaching principles underlying aesthetic patient care is not new; however, individual academic institutions should assess whether their programs predominantly focus on the physical aspects of care in comparison to aesthetic modalities of care. Creative ways of including aesthetic care principles into practice can provide students with a toolbox of practical approaches for addressing the holistic needs of humans, especially during such high-stressed times as a pandemic.

Available lesson plan: The Reflective Project: Addressing the Human Side of Patient Care

Concluding updates

With so much learned by individual disciplines during management of the coronavirus, new practice standards will surely evolve.  Some academicians will help write these standards and be part of academic teams that make corresponding curricula changes, or help introduce the new standards of practice to students.  To be part of their discipline’s future and introduce students to the future of healthcare, all academicians will need to take part in rolling out these changes.   

Too often students fail to learn how to think-outside-the-box or acquire the steps of creative problem solving.  Students not learning the creative steps to problem solving likely have a harder time resolving problems when unique events such as COVID transpire.  Academicians need to create behavioral tests challenging students to solve problems when solutions previously learned are not working.

Brenda Condusta Pavill, PhD, is professor emeritus following teaching in higher education for 30 years and clinical practice for 40 years. Pavill is the recipient of Teacher of the Year awards, has published a number of academic articles in peer-reviewed journals, authored the book Nursing Shoes, and penned professional articles for healthcare entities and nursing organizations. Pavill’s main focus is the education of future nurses and nurse practitioners, and has taught in both classroom and clinical settings.


Pavill, B. (2019, May/June). Practice makes perfect: Integrating technology to teach language barrier solutions. Nursing Education Perspectives 40(3), 189-191.  

Pavill, B. (2011, January/February). Fostering Creativity in Nursing Students: A Blending of Nursing and the Arts. Holistic Nursing Practice. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, (25)1, 17-25.  DOI:1097/HNP.0b013e3181fe25cd.