By Aimee Knowles
Special to the Bulletin
The coronavirus may have closed the doors to the classrooms at Patrick Henry Community College, but the learning continues — particularly for those in medically related field.
And first came a lesson in giving.
When Gov. Ralph Northam estimated last month that an average hospital could go through 240 sets of personal protective equipment per patient per day in an intensive care unit, PHCC made that a learning opportunity for students by making a large donation to help health care workers and first responders around Martinsville and Henry County.
Amy Webster, PHCC’s director of nursing and allied health, said she heard about the national need for protective gear and quickly coordinated with three departments — instructional laboratories for nursing, paramedic and physical therapist assistant programs — to create a distribution plan for PPE from the schools supplies that weren’t being used because the campus was closed to students.
“We felt it was important to support our local community,” Webster said. “Our resources were in storage and not in use, and we recognized that the hospital and local first responders would benefit from their use immediately. “
The college donated 10,000 gloves, 1,800 alcohol swabs, more than 125 isolation gowns and 1,000 different kinds of face masks to Henry County Public Safety, Martinsville Fire and EMS and SOVAH Health-Martinsville.
“We felt theses agencies would be in a position to encounter high-risk patients and would be utilizing supplies rapidly with the number of patient contacts they encounter,” Webster said.
The supplies were available because, after the United States reported its first COVID-19 case in January, many hospitals canceled onsite training for nursing and medical students, requiring colleges from California to Pennsylvania to suspend their students’ clinicals to limit the possible spread of the contagion and to reserve PPE for those already working in those fields.
But schools such as PHCC saw the pandemic as a learning opportunity. Instead of canceling clinicals altogether, a technology-based setting was created for teaching.
“Our students have continued in clinical through the use of virtual simulation,” Webster said. “Many clinical agencies were not able to accommodate students in the clinical setting as the pandemic unfolded.
“Our decisions were made in mid-March when we, as a college, transitioned our courses to remote operation. Safety of our students remains a priority.”
Although students are completing their clinicals remotely, Webster said there was no change in degree attainment.
“Our students who are scheduled to graduate this spring are still on track to graduate,” Webster said. “Our nursing faculty have continued instruction and have been able to facilitate student learning to meet course objectives through alternative instructional methods such as remote instruction using Zoom, online assignments and virtual clinical opportunities.”
After that next cohort of nurses walks across the virtual graduation stage — on May 16 for PHCC — they will be entering a job market faced with one of the largest health crises since the 1918 Spanish flu. However, Gov. Northam has repeatedly spoken about bringing in student nurses to work or volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Webster said a new PHCC graduate who passes the state’s licensing exam could be perfect for such a role.
“Volunteer opportunities are varied, and with the extensive nursing education students have acquired, they have a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of infection control and patient safety,” Webster said. “They are equipped with knowledge and skills that are specific to their educational disciplines, which would transition well into a volunteer setting.”
Part of the reason for that readiness is because the students learned how to use the very PPE the school donated. They use that equipment in laboratory settings when they learn basics of patient care, as well as for clinical settings when students provide patients’ care.
Webster said she did not have an exact number of protective gear used by students on a regular day, but she said that during the spring 2020 semester the college had 100 enrolled nursing students. If those students were all in a clinical setting and interacted with a single patient that required use of PPE four times on a given shift, that would equate to 800 gloves used in a single day.
Webster says PHCC has a plan to restock its inventory and be prepared for future training, although, with high demand for the equipment, the school continues to negotiate a firm timetable.
“We recognized immediately that we would have to replace the supplies, but knew we had time to plan and go through our typical purchasing process. We have already submitted orders for replacing some supplies,” Webster said. “Our plan is to restock our laboratory so that when our laboratory classes resume we have the resources we need to meet students’ educational needs.”
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