Healthcare students adjust to COVID-19, train through virtual learning


AUSTIN (KXAN) — COVID-19 has changed our way of life including the way many learn. For healthcare students, it means readjusting to a world of new safety guidelines while being able to train and gain hands-on experience.

“At this time we’ve had to look outside of that and make sure that at the end the student is competent to be a nurse or to be an occupational therapy assistant or a pharmacist technician,” said Estrella Barrera, Austin Community College’s Associate Dean of Health Sciences.

Austin Community College level four nursing students gather for a virtual call. (Source: Kristen Henderson)
Kristen Henderson, a level four registered nurse student at Austin Community College, shares a photo of herself pre-COVID-19 conducting her rotational clinical at a local hospital. (Source: Kristen Henderson)

For Kristen Henderson, the finish line is just weeks away. She graduates this December as a registered nurse. At present, she is finishing up her clinical and lab work, but she admits, COVID-19 has changed the way she and her fellow classmates learn.

“We can’t just go into any room we really have to stick to the rooms that were assigned to and I get why, I really do even though it’s not ideal, nothing in 2020 has been ideal,” Henderson said.

Barrera said they’ve gotten creative. They’ve turned to more online resources including virtual stimulation, calls, telemedicine and videotaping students on some of the basic skills such as administering a shot.

“The nursing department has been using cameras, videotaping students, on some of the very basic skills that you can check competency,” Barrera said.

The associate dean said they will address those who need extra practice in-person. When it comes to the hands-on experience, they’re working with their partners at local hospitals and clinics for in-person patient care training.

“Serving the Austin community’s healthcare needs is of utmost importance to us. Part of our responsibility is to help train future generations of healthcare providers to ensure the needs of the community are met. Ultimately, we hope to be able to find permanent positions for the students within our facilities. We are happy to partner with ACC on these educational endeavors,” said Eileen T. Kirrane, MAED, MS, RN, NPD-BC, the Vice President of Clinical Education at St. David’s Institute For Learning.

She added when it comes to COVID-19 safety they follow the “guidance of our infection prevention specialists” and have been able to “provide clinical training for our academic partners with some modifications.”

“Everyone entering our facilities, including students, have a temperature screening, along with a screening questionnaire. We also ask students to self-monitor for illness prior to each clinical day. Those exhibiting any symptoms have been instructed to exclude themselves from their clinical day for the safety of all. Additionally, universal masking is required in all of our facilities. We are currently restricting students from being in any rooms with patients in isolation, including COVID-19 patients, to limit any potential exposure and in an effort to preserve personal protective equipment,” Kirrane said.

In a statement the chief nursing officer of Ascension Texas said the following:

Although Austin Community College has moved to some virtual classroom education, the experience of taking care of patients is important for nursing students as they are able to interact and work with patients in a hospital setting. The use of simulation supplements their educational training; however, it does not replace the experience of taking care of patients in a hospital setting. By providing this experience through ACC’s partnership with Ascension Texas, the students are able to work with our staff and become familiar with the values of Ascension which helps us to recruit them when they graduate. Ascension Texas is proud to be the only health system in Austin that allows vocational nursing students to participate in clinical rotations to meet the needs of their educational preparation. In alignment with COVID-19 safety measures at all Ascension Texas hospitals, students follow the same screening criteria that all our associates follow before being admitted entry into our facilities (Covid-19 symptoms, temperature checks, etc.). To help preserve PPE we do not allow any student to care for a COVID-19 positive patient or patient under investigation for COVID-19 exposure.

Steven Brockman-Weber, Chief Nursing Officer of Ascension Texas

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