ECU Nursing resumes clinical placements and simulation labs for select programs

The College of Nursing has begun welcoming back students for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic paused clinical placements and other experiential learning exercises – allowing these students to finish the hands-on work that will allow them to graduate on time.

Students in ECU’s Nurse Anesthesia program were recently among the first to return to their clinical placements and the simulation labs at the College of Nursing. These 12 students returned to clinical placements the final week of May and to simulation labs on June 4.

Nurse anesthesia students Reagan Atkins, left, and Charlotte Brown show their COVID-19 symptom check results before beginning their lab exercise in the College of Nursing. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Students in the college’s Accelerated Second-Degree BSN (ABSN) program are expected to resume their lab exercises at the end of June and return to their clinical placements in early July.

Before their return, the college and university are finalizing additional steps to protect students, faculty and patients.

Required hands-on learning activities such as lab exercises and clinical placements are being reviewed by the university’s experiential learning review committee and, if necessary, adjusted with additional guidance and requirements for student, faculty, staff and patient safety.

Faculty are working to stagger student lab times and keep a log of everyone that enters and exits the building to minimize the amount of people in the building at once. On the days of their scheduled lab exercises, students are required to complete a COVID-19 symptom checker online and provide their results to faculty and staff at the building entrance before they are allowed inside. Hand sanitizer is provided at the entrance and everyone in the building is required to wear a mask unless they are working alone in a private office. Students assist faculty and staff with cleaning the lab and equipment once they complete their work.

Each clinical agency had to approve students’ return and confirm that they have sufficient supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE), for the students. Each agency has its own guidelines that students must adhere to in its facilities. It is also agreed that students would be kept away from areas where primarily COVID-positive patients are treated, and no students will be assigned to care for patients with known or suspected cases of COVID-19.

Because both of these programs have fewer students than many of the others in the college, it’s an opportunity to test the strategy being developed in order to safely resume these crucial educational experiences on a larger scale.

“We are fortunate that we are working with two small cohorts of students to give us a chance to try this out and think, ‘What would this look like when we bring more students back in the fall?’” said Dr. Annette Peery, associate dean of student affairs at the College of Nursing who also serves on the university’s experiential learning review committee. “This gives us a good opportunity to try things out to figure out what works and what doesn’t work and what we might want to do differently.”

Twenty-four students in the ABSN program are expected return to the school’s simulation labs at the end of June and will return to clinical placements at Vidant Medical Center and Vidant Beaufort the week of July 6.

“They will graduate in December, so it’s essential they are back in clinical and back in lab when they weren’t getting that face-to-face experience for half a semester of a one-year program,” Peery said.

If, however, students feel uncomfortable returning to these required experiences due to health or safety concerns, they will be allowed to withdraw and return to complete the program when they feel it is safe.

“It was really overwhelming at the beginning to think about everything and, ‘How do we keep everyone safe but still make sure that everyone gets the education that they need?’” Peery said. “But as we’ve come together and talked and listed to what the best practices are and listened to CDC guidelines, I think we’ve come up with a good plan to try this this summer.”

Dr. Robin Webb Corbett, chair of the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice and Education, and Dr. Annette Peery, associate dean for Academic Affairs, test a thermometer at the entrance of the College of Nursing before students arrived for lab exercises. They had the thermometer in case students had not taken their temperature before arriving.