Twin City nursing programs are full up and instruction will remain interactive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judy Neubrander, dean of Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing, said the college is pushing telehealth training more than ever before.
“We were already dipping our toe into last fall, but then in the spring, it just went into high gear using standardized participants who come online,” Neubrander said.
For example, she said, they’ve contracted an older gentleman who plays the role of a diabetic who is widowed.
“The nurse then has a whole telehealth visit with him, talking through his medications and everything related to his diagnosis of diabetes, but then also does a mental health assessment,” Neubrander said.
Face-to-face experience with patients is still critical before entering the field, she said. That’s why the majority of clinical sites—including hospitals, schools, and long-term care facilities—also are welcoming students back.
“I think they’ve now got a picture of what COVID is like and are well prepared,” Neubrander said. “Most of the hospitals are doing lots of testing on all of their patients, so they know who has COVID and who doesn’t. Of course, we’re not going to put students knowingly with any COVID patients.”
The same is true for nursing students at Heartland Community College, where Jennifer O’Connor is dean of health sciences.
“We do have plans to convert to virtual clinicals, if necessary,” O’Connor said. “Of course, we do want students to be in a realistic environment—as much and as often and as soon as possible—so we’re working with our clinical partners to make sure we have enough supplies for them.”
Both Neubrander and O’Connor said interest in nursing programs is high this year, with spots filling quickly and more students requesting information.
O’Connor said much of that interest may be economically driven.
"I think probably the difficult job market and the challenges people are facing in current employment right now, the sense that nursing offers a lot of stability and a good income I think is appealing to people, particularly when there's any kind of financial uncertainty,” she said.
Neubrander said students seem comfortable interacting with patients and classmates, for the most part. She said the majority of the 140 incoming freshmen in ISU’s nursing program are coming to campus.
Many upperclassmen returned to clinical settings in June and July after a transition to fully remote learning in the spring due to the coronavirus, Neubrander said. No students tested positive for COVID-19, she said, even with confirmed cases in the facilities they’re working in.
She said students are being provided with face shields, extra sets of uniforms, and other personal protective equipment to ensure they’re as safe as possible while working in medical settings.
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