Pandemic sparks interest in health care studies | Health

To become a health professional, one must first receive a quality education.

In the spring of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay home, schools and colleges had to close. This posed a problem for educators, as they needed to find a way to provide students with this quality education. One of the main questions became: “How can I teach my students?” »

Those at New River Community and Technical College (CTC) struggled with this question. But the good news, according to Angela Strickland, director of the Department of Health Sciences, Allied Health and Natural Sciences at New River CTC, is that through leadership, the school has been able to meet the challenges that Covid has brought and move on to the new normal today.

Learning Challenges

Prior to the pandemic, many schools and colleges across the country had already implemented some form of online learning into their curriculum. So the technology to move to a completely remote learning environment was there, at least for a large portion of West Virginians. It was simply about equipping every educator and every student with the tools they would need to succeed.

For healthcare educators at New River CTC, they had a different challenge — students in these programs rely heavily on hands-on learning, Strickland said.

“When we had to move our lectures to Zoom, it was so difficult to negotiate not only as an instructor, but also for our students,” she said. “I think if you’re teaching health care, you’re used to having your students in front of you. There is such a fine line between the start of the lecture and the start of hands-on learning in the labs. It’s such a tactile job.

At the height of the pandemic, it was hard to “do some things that couldn’t be done in person,” she said. “Using personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining social distancing, while trying to provide care in an active environment of patients, was really burdensome – and exhausting. We didn’t always know what to do. We were just trying to do our best.

She explained that, much like those in K-12 classrooms, college and university educators had the “frustration of unreliable internet,” digital equipment that was unable to meet the needs of staff or students and seeing students struggle as they try to learn. of the House.

Strickland recalled that the comments she heard most often from students during this time were, “It sucks so much. I want to be there. I want to reach patients. I want to do that.’

“It was just a really tricky time,” she added.

make it work

“We were really lucky that our college administration trusted us as healthcare professionals to decide what was best for us,” Strickland noted, adding healthcare programs are accredited. separately and have regulators to answer to.

“I can’t lecture my students, hopefully I can send them to the clinic and they will have the knowledge to do so,” Strickland continued. “We had to find a delicate balance between teaching and trying to cover these psychomotor skills.”

For this reason, patient simulators are used to aid in student understanding, and although they never come close to the learning that takes place in a real clinical setting, they are beneficial in helping students acquire new skills. new skills, Strickland said.

Today, the availability of online learning varies by program, she said.

“When you know it can be done online, then why not? It gives everyone flexibility,” Strickland said. “But students who are called to the health profession want to be there.”

Program Growth

According to Strickland, student enrollment in health care programs at New River CTC has increased over the past year. Although she said no data exists to say whether or not this increase is due to Covid, she thinks it is safe to assume that the crisis has inspired people to enter health care.

“I know if you’re interested in health care programs and you think health care is the field for you, then something like a pandemic is definitely something that helps mobilize the troops,” a- she declared.

The EMS program nearly tripled in size from seven to 18 students in the past year, Strickland said. Nursing programs continue to remain popular, with enrollments of approximately 40-60 students per year.

Even the new Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program, which is only a year old, has already seen an increase in enrollment from three students to 12, she added, and the LPN to RN program from two. years is almost at full capacity.

“It also helps that there is a lot of demand for these jobs,” Strickland added. “I think all of our students have in common that they want to have an education that allows them to have a career. You definitely don’t want to get into a career where it’s hard to find a job, and healthcare has certainly never been that in my lifetime. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Address shortages

The EMS graduation rate at New River CTC is 65 percent. Of those students, 93% will find employment, according to data provided by Strickland. Additionally, the LPN to RN program has a graduation rate of 77% and an NCLEX-RN board license rate of 86%. This means that when students graduate, they are ready to enter the job market. For employers, this means a lot.

“The nursing shortage is a very real thing,” Strickland said, adding that it’s a multifaceted problem that includes increased stress due to a higher patient-to-nurse ratio and the ‘burnout.

There is always a high demand for LPNs and RNs, Strickland added. At the state level, they streamline applications for nursing education programs. Thus, if places are occupied in a college, the application can be quickly transferred to another college which still has places available.

Additionally, earlier this summer, New River CTC announced in a press release that it would be partnering with ARH of Summers County in Hinton to offer the Applied Science Certificate Program in Practical Nursing to address to the shortage of nurses throughout the region.

Another popular request, particularly from doctors’ offices, is for physician assistants, Strickland said.

“Medical assistants are able to provide nursing care, but are not nurses,” she explained. “They do basic care – like checking a patient’s history or working on billing and coding – to fill the void. I would say that’s definitely one of the biggest requests we get from employers, because they’re a little more readily available than nurses are right now.

Finances and funding

According to Strickland, there have been no financial reductions at New River CTC as a result of the pandemic.

“I can’t say that has been true for all colleges, but I can say for ours, our health care programs — I believe they’re all eligible for West Virginia Invests.”

The grant program, known as the “Free Community College Tuition Bill”, gives qualified students the opportunity to receive a free education through funding provided by the state.

“It’s been a huge help for our students,” Strickland said. “Our legislature, they don’t do everything right, but they did this one really well.”

Lessons learned

Strickland said when Covid arrived and New River CTC had to switch to remote learning, it changed the way they thought of being a “student-ready institution.”

“I think the pandemic has been a huge equalizer for a lot of us, and I think, health care or not, it’s brought us to a place of compassion and a place that has made us want to understand what are student needs,” she said.

With all online learning, educators need to ensure students have up-to-date devices and internet speeds to support the technology being used, Strickland said, adding that the pandemic has changed the way students educators advise their students.

“The take home message is that we want to fulfill our mission,” Strickland continued. “We want to meet the needs of our region, and our region needs health care providers. We want to be the place that provides accessible and affordable quality education. The pandemic has really highlighted that we can do much more to fulfill this mission. »

“It really opened my eyes,” she concluded. “I think it was a very humbling experience. All of us, outside of being educators, also have a home life, and I think it’s just opened our eyes to the struggles that we’ve seen among our loved ones and that we recognize that those struggles also exist within our students.

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