How Bear Down Day Became one of UArizona Nursing’s Most Popular Annual Traditions

Oct. 18, 2021

On September first, one of the University of Arizona College of Nursing’s most beloved traditions, made its in-person return after a year-long COVID-19 hiatus. Bear Down Day, which occurs during the all-day labor and delivery skills lab of NURS 368 – Nursing Care of the Childbearing Family, has been an annual highlight of the class since Connie Miller, DNP, RNC-OB, CNE, Chair General Nursing and Health, inaugurated it in 2013. More than 100 second-semester Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students take the class annually.

For the past seven years NURS 368 has been taught by  Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-C and Melanie Welch, MSN, RN. The last in-person Bear Down Day was in spring 2020, right before the big shutdown, but it continued as an online event until last month. “We didn’t have the mannequin, of course,” says Welch. “Students couldn’t do hands-on, but Sharon and I made videos of all our labor and delivery stations, showing them all the equipment. They didn’t get to touch and feel it, but they got to see it.”

The return to in-person instruction for NURS 368 brought a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm from everyone involved. “We can go through a pandemic and come out the other side and continue back to some of our in-person learning, which is just so important,” Welch says.

The term Bear Down is a play on words. Not only is the phrase one of UArizona Athletics most enduring traditions as a battle cry that also inspired the song “Bear Down, Arizona,” but it’s also a term used by labor and delivery professionals to encourage soon-to-be mothers to push the baby out of the uterus during the second stage of labor.

Explaining the origins of the UArizona Nursing tradition, Dr. Miller says, “I was talking to my husband, the biggest UArizona football fan, about our upcoming skills lab day to learn labor and delivery skills.  He suggested that I call the day Bear Down Day to get students excited about the first home football game that weekend. I loved the idea and figured a great idea to show our UArizona spirit during our labor and delivery skills lab day, which occurs just before the students head into the hospital to experience them in person.”

“My favorite part of Bear Down Day is literally singing our Bear Down theme song. We can almost always get the students engaged, and by the time we get to the end of the day, when we go out to take a group photo, the students are pretty pumped," ~ Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-C

Dr. Miller shared the group photo of nursing students with UArizona Athletics, which posted it to their twitter account.  “It was such a big hit, with the students also sharing it with their friends and families, that we continued the tradition of wearing UArizona T-shirts and taking the picture every semester since then,” she says.

Although the group photo is Bear Down Day’s most memorable moment, it is a culmination of three weeks of rigorous hands-on instruction. Students learn about the different stages of labor, what both mother and baby are going through emotionally and physically, how caregivers care for them during and immediately after delivery, and the nursing interventions that are most frequently performed. Students also receive instruction on how to support a mom’s feelings and help her emotionally deal with their pain, and be supportive and caring to the family at the same time.

Bear Down Day combines all that knowledge into one day of instruction – which also happens to involve the inspirational power of music. The NURS 368 skills lab mannequin, Noelle, delivers a mannequin baby during class so that students can watch the delivery process. As Noel delivers her baby, Hitchcock and Welch play the Bear Down theme song and the entire class joins in.

“My favorite part of Bear Down Day is literally singing our Bear Down theme song,” Dr. Hitchcock says. “We can almost always get the students engaged, and by the time we get to the end of the day, when we go out to take a group photo, the students are pretty pumped.”

“Bear Down Day is everybody’s favorite day,” Welch says. “Students from previous semesters sometimes walk by the classroom, going ‘Oh, I just love this day! Bear Down Day just pulled it all together.’ Typically, we get people that say, ‘I was really nervous about this course because I’ve never had any hands-on with babies’ but most of them end up loving it, not necessarily that that’s the kind of nursing they’ll go into, but really learning about the mom and the baby and the whole process that they go through.”

Both Dr. Hitchcock and Welch agree that the best thing about NURS 368 is the students. “When concepts begin to click, they get excited especially about our OB content,” Dr. Hitchcock says, pointing out that many students approach the courses warily at first. “By the end they’re like, ‘Oh my Gosh! I could see myself doing this.’ This is why I love teaching. We love doing things that not only challenge the students but is also fun and brings a lighthearted aspect to it.”