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Central Texas College moves forward with nursing education despite pandemic challenges

Posted at 9:05 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 22:06:00-05

KILLEEN, TX — Nursing students require hours of hands-on training in a hospital setting in order to obtain a degree. However, this has proven to be a challenge for nursing schools across the country who have had to adjust teaching in the coronavirus era.

Schools have been forced shift their teachings online due to COVID-19 as well as navigate through hospital restrictions, limiting access for students in clinical rotations.

Locally, Central Texas College has partnered with local hospitals to ensure their students are able to continue their education.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to nursing because someone's life is literally on the line. CTC’s Health Sciences department has been working to create a virtual learning experience that is close to the real thing while also maintaining close communication with local hospitals to keep some type of clinical experience for students.

After being an educator for many years, nursing senior Jennifer Frierson decided it was time for a career change. Although the year has been challenging, she says she feels ready to enter the real world.

“Instead of saying, "Well we can’t do this," and just taking us back a little bit, it’s been a forward motion, hands down. I feel completely confident," Frierson said.

The ongoing support of family, friends, and CTC faculty is who Frierson credits with her success this semester. Still having the opportunity to continue her studies safely is something she is grateful for.

“It’s really about making sure we have the hands-on experience. CTC has been instrumental in providing us with online modules in order to complete our coursework, and it has kept it feeling just like in the classroom," Frierson said.

Department Chair of Health Sciences Tammy Samarripa says they have shifted to case studies and a virtual hospital to continue teaching online. By minimizing and alternating students who come on campus, they are still able to have their in-person skills lab.

“We’ve got a little bit of everything! We're trying to meet the objectives of each program, and so far, so good. It’s working. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly meeting those requirements that they need for their objectives." Samarripa said.

Access to PPE and social distancing within local hospitals for students in the clinical rotation was an issue CTC had to overcome too. AdventHealth staff say they have been working with the college to ensure students learn life-saving skills.

“It’s a real delicate balancing act. COVID is not going anywhere, so we still need to offer these opportunities to the students. Units such as OSU, our Behavioral Health, our Cath Lab, our maternal and childhood health, we still have those areas open so we can still serve the needs of those students,” explained Thomas Wilhite, Director of Employee Education and Clinical Informatics at AdventHealth.

Before the most recent surge of COVID-19, Wilhite says they were allowing students on COVID floors to get hands-on teaching from those nurses too.

"So we said okay, if we have it under control, we can accommodate students in the COVID unit. But if it's uncontrolled as it is now, we have to watch out for the staff, and we have to watch out for the students themselves," he said.

However, Wilhite explained that hospital policy says any area of the hospital with more than 50% of COVID-19 patients has been closed off to students. He anticipates as their coronavirus hospitalizations decrease, clinical rotations with COVID-19 patients will resume.

Despite the hoops and hurdles of navigating through clinicals and virtual learning challenges, Frierson says she's more than ready to join the fight on the frontlines after she graduates in May.

“We’re all looking forward to working out there and truly helping people. We're there to help take up some of the load," she said.

For more information about CTC and the degrees they offer, click here.