When the coronavirus pandemic forced Georgia Gwinnett College to move all of its classes online, its 32 senior nursing students were halfway through their final semester of hands-on training in metro Atlanta hospitals.
Hundreds of hours working with patients are required for a nurse to practice in Georgia, and the pandemic has put medical personnel in high demand. While Georgia Gwinnett’s future nurses couldn’t finish their semester working in the hospital, the school deployed technology that still allowed them to get the experience and hours needed to graduate on time and enter the workforce.
Georgia Gwinnett made the decision to move all classes online during its spring break, giving the college’s nursing faculty two weeks to figure out how to make it work for their students, who typically work and learn in a hospital setting for the last two years of their bachelor’s program. They found a solution in two simulator programs that allowed students to work together in online scenarios mirroring what they’d be doing in person, once they are registered nurses.
Nursing students typically perform tasks including giving medication, drawing blood, physically examining a patient and responding to any urgent medical needs, like performing CPR. They use information gathered through those everyday tasks and patients’ medical history to make judgments and give treatment recommendations. For the past six weeks, they’ve been doing that virutally.
“Once you start, it’s just like going to the hospital,” said Desi Kennedy, a nursing student set to graduate this month. “We have to give reports on four different patients. We break off into groups and decide what our priorities should be and how we should delegate certain tasks. We have huddle sessions about our patients. Those situations are really realistic — things can change really fast.”
Students are evaluated in the same way they’d be if they were in a real clinical setting. They get marked down if they don’t make an approporiate choice in a virtual patient’s treatment or if they enter the wrong virtual hospital room. They’re responsible for the same tasks and number of patients they’d handle on a hospital floor. They even get interrupted by virtual medical personnel asking about other patients and phone calls from patients’ family members.
“We cannot afford to make mistakes in our profession, and this tested that,” Kennedy said.
The nursing program at Georgia Gwinnett has always had a remote element; its “flipped classroom” model has students watch lectures and do coursework at home, reserving classroom time for group projects and hands-on practice. While virtual clinicals were a new addition, the adjustment was easier than it would have been without previous online learning experience, Kennedy said. Georgia Gwinnett is the only college in the state using this model.
“We really didn’t need to transition as much as other colleges,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy finished her last exam Tuesday. Now she and her classmates are preparing to start their jobs in metro Atlanta hospitals in the midst of a pandemic. Kennedy will be a cardiac nurse at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. COVID-19 is a disease that primarily affects the respiratory symptoms, but patients have experienced cardiac complications. Kennedy doesn’t know if she’ll be dealing with COVID-19 patients regularly, but she says she’s ready for it.
“If that happens, you take the bull by the horns and go forward,” Kennedy said. “I have a healthy amount of anxiety — the normal amount of anxiety you have entering any new career. But as far as the pandemic goes, I am really excited to go out there and join the workforce and help the community.”
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