Pandemic-Related Modifications Safeguard Training For Rutgers‒Camden’s Future Nurse Workforce

Nursing students Zach Jackson and Jillian Schlueter

By Jeanne Leong

When the global COVID-19 pandemic forced Rutgers University‒Camden to switch from in-person classes to remote learning in the spring, the School of Nursing faced a special challenge: at a time when nurses were needed more than ever before, how could the school provide students with the preparation needed for a career in health care?

Hands-on clinical training in hospitals and other facilities is essential for nursing students. These experiences provide opportunities for students to interact with patients and operate life-sustaining and life-saving equipment, such as intravenous pumps, feeding tubes or gastric drains, and heart monitors.

Rutgers University–Camden nursing faculty and administrators responded quickly by modifying teaching and learning to ensure safety while students receive quality access and training to prepare them for their careers in health care.

In mid-March, the Rutgers School of Nursing‒Camden suspended clinical training; many students did not have the opportunity to work with nursing equipment or directly interact with patients as part of their nursing training due to the high incidence of COVID-19 in the community and across the nation. Virtual classes were created so that students could increase their knowledge in specific clinical content and concepts. Instructors described a patient’s symptoms and asked students to offer a diagnosis and a course of treatment.

“Students had the concepts, but they didn’t have the actual motor skill, the tactile ability, or muscle memory, to do the task,” says Penny Smith, a nurse and a simulation specialist at the Rutgers School of Nursing‒Camden.

To prepare students for the clinical training that resumed this fall, the nursing school held an in-person boot camp for more than 270 Rutgers‒Camden nursing students over six days in mid-August.

Students Hanna Monteleone and Weiji Zhang training to work with patients in the simulation lab

Students Hanna Monteleone and Weiji Zhang train on a computerized mannequin in the simulation lab.

“Some students said they wanted to have more experience talking to patients and working with equipment needed to care for patients, and that’s how I got the idea for the boot camp,” says Smith.

Small groups of seniors and students in levels three and four of the accelerated bachelor of science program, following social distance protocols, participated in the boot camp for one six-hour session in the Rutgers–Camden Nursing and Science Building.

“The boot camp encompassed a vast range of basic skills necessary to begin working with patients in the hospital setting,” says Jillian Schleuter, an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing student. The Marlton resident had some clinical training in the Rutgers‒Camden nursing labs before the pandemic, but the boot camp gave her valuable hands-on experience with hospital equipment.

Penny Smith, Nancy Hill, Donna Nickitas, Kay Aquino

Instructors Penny Smith, Nancy Hill, and Kay Aquino with  Dean Donna Nickitas (at top right).

At 25 workstations, students could perform a variety of clinical skills or functions including conducting head-to-toe examinations of each other, preparing IVs, administering medication, and working with oxygen delivery devices.

In the clinical simulation lab, students worked through a health care scenario with a computerized mannequin that talks, has breath sounds, and responds to the actions that students perform as they move the scenario forward. This allows the nursing student to get a feel for what would happen when caring for a patient in the hospital.

“It was very helpful,” says Zack Jackson, a senior from Sewell. “It’s really beneficial for someone like myself who learns best by doing.”

To ensure safety during the pandemic, every student is required to wear a mask and a face shield, and only six students are permitted in a lab at a time, instead of the usual 12, to maintain social distancing.

“We’re making it safe for the students to be here and making adjustments for how we teach,” says Smith. “Hopefully, we will conquer it by thinking outside of the box.”

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