Nursing students go virtual for their hospital “clinical” experiences

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Nursing students at Queens University of Charlotte are going through a unique curriculum change after being taken out of hospital clinicals to ensure their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Until the threat is over, clinicals will be taught online. 

A clinical is loosely described as when a student shadows a nurse in a hospital and gets to experience real situations and simulations that can happen in a hospital.   Students interviewed were divided about how much the shift to online could impact their education. 

For Hayley O’Donnell, ’21, the clinical experience is the most important part of her education.  

“I feel like I’m not getting my hands-on experience that I need,” O’Donnell said. While she understood why she cannot be in a hospital right now, she said she is eager to get back to her normal learning routine. 

Alyssa Bosak, ’21, complimented Queens on how swiftly and efficiently it made the shift to online learning. While Bosak thinks it would be ideal for her to get her clinical hours in a hospital, she said the online work is the best alternative. 

Dr. Tama Morris, dean of the Blair College of Health, said what the students are learning online is practically the same as what they would learn in the hospital.  

Online learning was a part of the nursing program before Queens made the full switch. Students, for example, would undergo an online debriefing after their “in-hospital” shifts. So, they are used to learning this way, she said. 

To simulate an “in-hospital” experience, instructors challenge students with case studies. 

“Case studies can be presented all at one time, with a description of the patient situation, or they can unfold where the students are given information in smaller segments,” Morris said. “In the unfolding case study, the students learn the information as they go along, much like what really happens in a clinical setting.” 

The nursing program decided to suspend clinicals in hospital settings on March 16. All Queens classes transitioned fully online two days later.

“This decision was made to conserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for our clinical partner,” Jen Johnson, Queens vice president for enrollment and marketing. “Also, we were notified by many of our clinical partners that they were suspending student experiences or considering this option.” 

The necessity of the move was ratified when, on March 26, an email from the administration notified nursing students in the senior class that a fellow student had tested positive for COVID-19. The infected student was last in contact with other students in the senior class on March 17, the email said. 

Students receiving the email were urged to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms until March 31. 

Asked if it was possible the student contracted the virus during an in-hospital clinical, Morris said that federal law restricts her from addressing any student’s specific circumstances. 

While this experience of online learning is unexpected, Morris said she believes it will only enhance her students’ learning in the long run. They have been challenged to adapt, she said, and they are continuing to work through the changes. 

O’Donnell and Bosak say they look forward to getting back to their hospital clinicals next school year, but for now they will continue learning from the comfort of their homes. 

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.