Jacqueline Flowers graduated with 4.0 GPA from the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the WSU College of Nursing in Vancouver. Not long ago she was weighing competing job offers to work as a nurse practitioner at health clinics in rural Washington.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, blowing a hole in budgets throughout the health care system.

Suddenly her first-choice employer withdrew a job offer amid a hiring freeze. Flowers mulled whether she should wait to see whether the freeze lifted, but in the end accepted a job in a different rural community.

Disruption, however, is not the first thing on Flowers’ mind as she considers the impact of the pandemic on her plans and on health care.

She talks about creativity and flexibility in how Washington State University and health care professionals have reacted to the pandemic.

WSU College of Nursing faculty “were really dedicated to helping us succeed” as the university abruptly shifted to online education, Flowers said.

She’s also optimistic about the use, spurred by the pandemic, of virtual patient visits.

“Health care basically made this change overnight, and doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses have embraced it,” she said. She added that virtual visits could be a boon for rural care, where clinic patients often struggle with transportation to appointments and a lack of access to specialty care.

Ironically, Flowers’ original goal as a nurse practitioner – to go to work in a busy, urban emergency department – may have been a better fit for life amid coronavirus. She worked in just such an environment after graduating with her bachelor’s degree from the WSU College of Nursing in Spokane.

But her plans changed after her first family-practice rotation in the DNP program.

“I enjoyed being able to treat generations of families, being able to treat a wide variety of patients from pediatrics to geriatrics,” she said.

Flowers credits WSU Health Sciences for giving her the opportunity to try out rural practice. She’s also grateful for financial support made possible by a federal grant to WSU to encourage nurse practitioner students to explore rural health care.

As she prepares to become a nurse practitioner in Grays Harbor, Washington, there are many unknowns – as there are in every job right now. What’s certain: “I think we’re going to have a new normal,” Flowers said. “I don’t think there’s any way we’re going back to where we were before.”