Vanderbilt Nursing students, faculty return to in-person classes on campus fall 2020

Photo of classroom with sign saying maximum occupancy is 56 people

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing will welcome students, faculty and staff back to campus for in-person classes in late August. This is part of Vanderbilt University’s comprehensive  Return to Classes plan, which was announced today by Incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente. Vanderbilt School of Nursing Dean Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN, outlined VUSN’s plans—and the safety protocols required—in email letters to students, faculty and staff. Read her letter to students.

Dear Vanderbilt School of Nursing Students:


Thank you so much for your patience as Vanderbilt developed its plans for the fall semester. I know that the wait has seemed interminable. I’m pleased to announce that your wait is over: Vanderbilt University School of Nursing will hold in-person classes on campus this fall.

Doing so will involve changes and challenges, however. Our buildings and in-person classes will look and operate differently than in the past, but be assured that the VUSN culture, community and academic excellence will remain strong and connected.

Earlier today, you should have received an email announcement from Vanderbilt University Incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente with details on the university’s re-opening. Please take time to read their email and visit the Return to Campus website, which outlines the planning and preparations that will allow our students, faculty and staff to be back on campus safely.

The decision to hold in-person classes was made after months of planning, consultation with experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and national, state and local public health officials, and review of best practices and various scenarios. The Return to Campus plan is grounded in the adoption of rigorous safety and prevention protocols.

I am most happy that you will be on campus this fall. As you know, a core component of Vanderbilt’s student experience is in-person learning, collaboration and the interaction of faculty, staff and students. I am very pleased that we will again be able to offer that incomparable experience to our students.

In-person education in the COVID-19 era requires extensive planning and adjustments to assure safety for all our community while delivering a world-class educational experience. There is much you need to know about returning to campus. Here are the highlights. Additional information is available in the Admitted students and Current students sections of our website; please check there frequently for updates.

Fall Semester Dates

Our academic calendar has been adjusted. School of Nursing start dates vary by program.

  • Start of classes for VUSN PreSpecialty students is August 21, 2020, and will be on campus.
  • Start of classes for VUSN ASN to MSN students is August 21, 2020, and will be virtual.
  • Start of classes for VUSN Specialty students is August 24, 2020. See the specialty calendars on the VUSN website for details regarding virtual and on-campus classes; every specialty has a different schedule.
  • Start of classes for VUSN DNP students is August 31, 2020. On-campus intensive will be held for new DNP students; returning DNP students will participate in a virtual intensive.
  • The fall semester will be compressed by ending on-campus classes at Thanksgiving break (Friday, November 20, 2020). End-of-semester classes and exams will be held virtually. Students will not return to campus until the start of the spring semester.
  • Fall 2020 registration begins for continuing students on June 22, 2020. Fall 2020 registration begins for new VUSN students on July 1, 2020.
  • Any incoming or continuing students having difficulty meeting the compliance requirements should contact Lisa Boyer, Compliance Officer, 615-343-3294.
  • All orientation will be conducted virtually. Some modules will be prerecorded so students can complete them at own pace. Others will be conducted via video conferencing to encourage student interaction. The orientation schedule will be posted on VUSN’s Admitted Students page in mid-July. Students will be required to have completed orientation by the start of their classes.

Please note: Vanderbilt’s top priority is the health and safety of you and the Vanderbilt community. The university will continue to closely track the course of the pandemic and will adjust plans as necessary in response to the latest information.

Coursework and Classrooms

The successful reopening of Vanderbilt’s campus will require a united effort from all of us and every member of the Vanderbilt community.

To begin with, we will practice CDC-recommended physical distancing, mask wearing, and other requirements for health and safety throughout our buildings and on the Vanderbilt campus. Already informational and directional signage is in place. Returning students will see great physical changes.

As much as possible, on-campus classes will be a blend of in-person and virtual instruction. In-person classes will take place with safe distancing protocols in each classroom and in other locations such as the Simulation Lab. Classroom occupancy has been reduced to conform to recommended group sizes and students will sit at least six feet apart in classrooms.

  1. PreSpecialty classes will have a combination of online virtual learning sessions and in-person small group discussion/seminars. Lecture sessions in the PreSpecialty classes will be provided primarily online. Clinical/experiential learning will utilize a combination of simulation lab sessions and direct patient care rotations.
  1. ASN to MSN classes will hold virtual block sessions in the fall semester.
  1. Specialty classes have been modified to require fewer in-person sessions and days. The specialties that use on-campus block sessions will focus on active teaching activities that cannot be done virtually. The dates for each on-campus block will vary by academic specialty. Some specialties have planned for some virtual block sessions during the fall semester and will continue with those plans. Please check your specialty webpages for dates and look for emails from your specialty directors.
  1. New DNP students will participate in a 4-5 day intensive in-person class session at the beginning of the fall semester, and online learning for the remainder of the semester. Continuing DNP students will participate in a virtual fall intensive and online learning for the rest of the semester.
  1. PhD in Nursing Science students will receive information from the Vanderbilt Graduate School with specifics tailored for them. PhD classes and research work conducted in the VUSN buildings will follow VUSN protocols regarding safety and physical distancing.
  1. Clinical experiences will proceed in collaboration with our practice partners, and students will use appropriate public health standards while in those settings. Students will not care for patients with symptoms or known COVID-19.

All School of Nursing programs have an in-person component. In the academic programs for advanced nursing practice (MSN, Post-Master’s Certificate and BSN to DNP), clinical experiential learning is required to meet accreditation standards. Therefore, students must be present on campus for certain components of the clinical learning sessions, as well as must participate in direct patient care in a clinical setting. There is no option for remote-only instruction. If you need accommodation for health purposes, contact Student Access Services.

Health and Safety

I mentioned earlier that CDC-based protocols will be in place and that all of us will need to commit to protecting our health and that of our community. We must take an active role in preventing the spread of the virus. As nurses (and soon-to-be-nursing students), you understand that our efforts are geared at prevention of infection.

The university has instituted enhanced cleaning protocols, changes to foot traffic flow through buildings and on campus pathways, and more efforts to ensure all campus spaces and buildings support the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. Details are available on the Return to Classes website.

In our buildings and elsewhere on campus, we will follow public health protocols that include symptom monitoring, temperature checks, mandatory face masks/coverings, public hand sanitizer stations and physical distancing. All students, faculty and staff who return to campus will need to sign an acknowledgment of such protocols. We will provide a link to that acknowledgement for you to fill out prior to start of classes.

These are best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Right now, COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated. Therefore, the university is also putting requirements in place for COVID-19 testing, as well as rigorous contact tracing and symptom management. The university has asked the School of Nursing and our VUMC colleagues to deploy our best practices in these areas, and we are honored to do so. Additional details about the university’s plans to implement these best practices, as well as the varying testing requirements for different groups of students—which may include testing prior to, upon return, or during their time on campus—will be shared on the Return to Classes website by July 15.

The School of Nursing’s Nurse Faculty Practice Division has been tapped for a new collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Student Health Center. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and RNs from our Faculty Practices will perform contact tracing for COVID-19 positive cases; act as an interface between the university, Student Health and VUMC; provide counseling for any students who are in quarantine and isolation; and provide periodic well checks for all students. This is a great opportunity to help the university and provide quality, holistic care to students at a time when they will be under physical and mental stress.

VUSN Community

Something we hear from students and alumni over and over is that they formed bonds with their classmates and faculty at VUSN that stay strong for the rest of their lives. It is true when we talk to graduates from 50 years ago and it is true for those who finished last year. It will be true for you as well, and COVID-19 won’t change that. Study groups, clinical cohorts and project teams will still interact. Faculty will still be available to you, whether in person or virtually.

VUSN has a variety of active student organizations that new students are encouraged to join. Each organization is recording a video about their group. These will be posted online for new students to review. We will hold a virtual student organization event, with each organization hosting a live video chat with incoming students and current members. Lists of organizations are found in the VUSN Student Handbook and on the VUSN website.

For more information on the university’s plans and initiatives for the fall, please visit the Return to Classes website. If you have questions that haven’t been answered here, please go to the Admitted and Current students sections of the VUSN website for more specific information. We will be updating those sections on a regular basis. For questions not addressed here or online, contact Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Sarah Ramsey, 615-343-3334.

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to change the ways we live, learn, interact and study. But it will not change what matters: the collaborative, innovative and caring Vanderbilt culture and the quality education for which we are known. We look forward to more face-to-face collaboration in a post-COVID environment, but until then, we will utilize the best methods to promote an excellent teaching and learning environment.

Your faculty and I look forward to seeing all of you in the fall.

Best regards,

Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing