UTEP Nursing Students Finish Clinical Rotations During Pandemic
Last Updated on May 06, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published May 06, 2020
By Laura L. Acosta
After two years of rigorous coursework, Steven Applegate was not about to let the coronavirus pandemic hold him back from his dream to become a nurse.
Applegate was in the final stage of The University of Texas at El Paso’s traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program when local hospitals suspended on-site clinical experiences for most nursing students because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Students in the first three semesters of the UTEP nursing program were released from their clinical obligations in late March.
But seniors such as Applegate, who were in their fourth and final semester in the School of Nursing, had to make a difficult decision about how to complete their outstanding clinical hours. They could choose one of three options: finish their coursework via virtual simulation, delay their graduation and complete their clinical hours at a later date, or continue their clinical rotations in the hospitals in order to graduate in May.
“While I completely understand why students would choose to participate in virtual clinicals, I preferred to work in the hospital (because) it exposed me to unique situations that I may encounter in my professional career,” said Applegate, whose clinical rotation in the telemetry unit at the Hospitals of Providence Sierra Campus began April 12, 2020, and will end May 10. In addition to completing 260 clinical hours, Applegate also participated in a hospital internship.
“Although (the nursing program) provides extensive educational opportunities that are applicable to any setting, the hospital setting also offers excellent opportunities that are more hands on, and I am able to work in real situations with real individuals that are all unique,” he added.
Despite concerns about being exposed to COVID-19, the highly infectious illness caused by the coronavirus, Applegate and 25 other UTEP nursing students fulfilled their clinical education requirements at University Medical Center, El Paso Children’s Hospital, Del Sol Medical Center, Las Palmas Medical Center and the Hospitals of Providence.
They will be among 75 nursing students who are expected to earn their UTEP degrees on May 16 and will join essential health care workers battling the pandemic in acute care facilities and health care settings.
These nursing graduates also will include 19 students who participated in virtual clinical experiences, and 30 students who finished their on-site experiences before the pandemic. Graduating students will receive their degrees as scheduled; however, the May 2020 ceremonies have been rescheduled to the fall.
“This unprecedented time in nursing education has presented us with unique challenges and allowed our faculty and students the opportunity to explore innovative solutions,” said School of Nursing Dean Leslie Robbins, Ph.D. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has altered nursing education in some significant ways, the UTEP School of Nursing continues to focus on access and excellence for all of our programs.”
Just in Time Learning
As part of their clinical rotations, students are supervised by a preceptor, or a licensed professional nurse, who serves as a teacher and mentor. They gain hands-on experience working alongside nurses and doctors while practicing common nursing skills with real patients such as taking blood pressure readings and inserting intravenous lines.
Students who participated in virtual clinical experiences completed clinical scenarios that were designed by the School of Nursing to build on their critical thinking skills and clinical judgment.
“One of the scenarios was centered around the coronavirus pandemic, so the students benefited from ‘just in time’ learning,” said Laura Rodriguez, DNP, associate dean of the undergraduate nursing program. “The value of the exercise is immediate but also has long-term effects as these future graduate nurses will be dealing with this virus as they enter the nursing profession.”
During hospital rotations, students were restricted from attending to patients who were suspected of having COVID-19. The hospitals also emphasized infection control and strict adherence to safety protocols.
UTEP students Lizette Lambert and Louise Teixeira-Pinheiro had their temperatures checked each time they entered Del Sol Medical Center. They wore face masks and scrubs during their rotations and were constantly reminded not to touch their faces and to wash their hands for 20 seconds.
Before starting their rotations in mid-March, Lambert and Teixeira-Pinheiro were selected as interns at Del Sol, which meant that in addition to finishing their clinical hours for graduation, they would also have to complete 14 additional shifts.
But rather than forgo the internship and finish her clinical hours online, Teixeira-Pinheiro decided that her passion for helping people superseded any fears she had about the pandemic.
“There is only so much a book can teach me, and clinical rotations teach me real case scenarios,” said Teixeira-Pinheiro, who was assigned to the hospital’s emergency department, where she looked after patients who suffered strokes and heart attacks or were injured in vehicle accidents. She did not interact with patients who arrived at the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
“I can practice my skills on real patients,” she said. “The emergency room is fast paced and I learned how to prioritize patients. There is nothing like the experience of being in the hospital, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
Erica Uratsu will complete her clinical rotation and internship in Del Sol’s medical surgical unit on May 13. After graduating from UTEP with a BSN degree in May, she will have a job waiting for her at the hospital after she passes the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN exam) this summer.
Uratsu said administering medications, communicating with doctors, and charting and documenting patient information 13 hours a day, three days a week provided her with the real-life experience she needed to strengthen her critical thinking skills and boost her professional self-confidence.
“This has been an amazing learning experience for me,” she said. “It has not been easy. I’ve put a lot of hard work into these clinicals and I do have anxiety every day that I go. Each day has been a learning experience and slowly I get more comfortable, but I always continue to learn different things.”