Pierce College nurse keeps cool during pandemic

A feature story on Karen Winter, a Pierce College nurse.

COVID-19 has arguably surpassed the predictions and expectations of medical experts around the world, but one Pierce College nurse has remained calm through it all.

Karen Winter, a nursing instructor who specializes in labor and delivery, has been navigating through the pandemic as it’s affecting her teaching life, personal life and nightlife.

Aside from teaching, Winter works 40 hours per week of full-time night shifts as a nurse at Madigan Army Medical Center. She has 39 years of nursing experience, 30 of which were at Madigan, come November. She’s been the specialist instructor at Pierce for the obstetrician portion of the nursing department for the past five years and has been using her military background to help adjust to the virtual quarter.

“I’m making it work but I’m pretty sure I look like the [Edvard Munch] Scream painting,” said Winter.

Winter is currently teaching one three-hour class but said she puts in about 20 hours per week navigating the online realm and ensuring her delivery of quality information. She explained her sister, a principal of 30 years who lives with her, has been helpful with her online transition, though virtually instructing hasn’t been the same as being on-campus.

“I don’t know if my passion or enthusiasm comes through as well online as it does in person,” said Winter.

She explained that she loves being a labor and delivery nurse and always wants to share that appreciation with her students. A common method of her doing so was through her anecdotal stories of personal experience, but now she felt as if it wasn’t as easy to convey those same memories through an online setting.

Winter explained it wasn’t clear to her whether or not her department was moving forward with online instruction until about a week before the start of the quarter. Being retired Air Force and still working full time at a hospital, she said the additional wages from Pierce weren’t necessary and was originally planning her eventual retirement. However, she knew there wasn’t a replacement labor and delivery specialist for her if she left so she embraced her teaching role once again.

“Most nursing students don’t live through a pandemic so this is just a tremendous learning opportunity for them to hopefully help and then overcome future situations where something of this magnitude happens again because history often repeats itself,” said Winter.  

Her attitude has been one of adaptability and positivity and credits her several decades of military experience. As a retired commander, she said the executive training has prepared her to embrace challenges and move forward, even in the most unexpected circumstances like biological incidents. She said she’s done her best to move past the discomfort of online teaching and has been exploring a variety of ways to deliver her instruction.

Her class has an optional weekly Zoom session, of which around 28 of her 32 students regularly attend. She primarily instructs through audio clips over her lecture slides that she pre-records as many times as necessary, until she deems it perfect enough for her students. She also utilizes YouTube but screens every video for accuracy and includes disclaimers to her students if parts of the video aren’t up to par.

“You gotta figure things out, you can’t grieve over something,” said Winter. “You gotta say, ‘okay, how can I fix this or how can I make this the best outcome possible and move forward.’”

Despite keeping a positive attitude, Winter acknowledged the challenges she’s experienced working as a nurse. She explained her hands feel as if they’re falling off because of the sheer amount of the necessary handwashing. She said she usually washes at least 50 times during a 12-hour shift, not including additional washing at home. 

Another challenge for her has been the social distancing she’s had to do from her parents.

“We’re making it work but I want to be able to hug my mom because, you know, what if she just reaches the end of her lifetime tomorrow and then I would say, ‘gosh, I haven’t hugged my mom for two months’ and that just makes me feel really sad,” said Winter.

Nursing, as Winter said, is also a face-to-face, hands on and very social profession and trying to teach it online with virtual simulations has been difficult. However, she recognizes the helpful flexibility the quarter has given students and wondered if Pierce would one day offer a wider variety of asynchronous methods, specifically for licensed practical nursing students.

Winter also recognized the community’s reaction to the pandemic and believed, for the most part, people have responded well. She believed social distancing would be the new normal for at least several years and compared the events of today to 9/11, with masks and hand sanitizer every step of the way.

Her biggest concerns are if she becomes sick but asymptomatic and gets others sick, as well as if the community acts too fast about resuming their previous lifestyles. She emphasized that regular washing, mask wearing and social distancing really makes a difference.

“Be safe and be sanitized and hang in there. That’s the best message we can have and just keep a positive attitude and just keep moving on,” said Winter.


The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Kathryn Scott

Pierce College nurse keeps cool during pandemic

by Kathryn Scott time to read: 4 min