FL nursing students learn from ‘Virtual Clinicals,’ but will that work in real life?

Nursing simulation, University of Florida nursing program. Credit: UF.

Ben Reams is a second semester nursing student at Tallahassee Community College. At this point of his education, he should be visiting Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare for clinicals, where nursing students apply their in-classroom education to real-life scenarios.

“We would be going to the hospital two times a week, following nurses around, getting to see how things works,” Reams said.

But as of March, Florida colleges across the state moved nursing education online to slow the spread of coronavirus, replacing hands-on practices with virtual clinicals.

Time will tell if virtual education for nurses will work in the real world. And it is crucial for nurses and other medical professionals to be prepared for battling the coronavirus that has expanded across the globe, causing thousands of infections and deaths.

Without the interpersonal practices, Reams likens online clinicals to “busywork.”

“There’s so much more that goes into it. Whether it’s just observation, patient care, talking with a real person–just basic tasks that you can replicate online, but it’s not the same.”

Stephanie Solomon, Tallahassee Community College’s Dean of Healthcare Professions, said that the administration started considering remote learning practices before students returned from spring break, with the understanding that students might visit at-risk areas.

 “With there being so much uncertainty about the virus we thought it was feasible to remove our students from the clinical sites for reasons such as 1) we did not want our students to enter the clinical sites as potential carriers of the virus, 2) there were many concerns about our students possibly becoming exposed to the virus while in the clinical sites, 3) we did not want to take away from the clinical sites supply of personal protective equipment that the healthcare providers would desperately need to care for the patients,” Solomon said in a written statement.

On March 21, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees adjusted several rules and statutes in response to the COVID-19 with an emergency order.

Under this order nursing programs may “substitute supervised remote live videoconferencing for didactic hours and simulation for all supervised clinical instruction hours required by any statute or rule.”

Other states have different methods.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing keeps a list of current changes to education requirements in different states in response to the coronavirus.

Of the states listed in this report, most are allowing for significant flexibility from their nursing programs. Some are bending their requirements to put students who are close to graduating on the front lines.

Michigan temporarily allows “students who are enrolled in programs to become licensed, registered, or certified health care professionals to volunteer or work within the facility in whatever roles that are necessary.”

Some states, such as California, are waiving the requirements to have certain licenses in order to increase medical staff during this time.

Many Florida nursing students, like Reams, will be receiving their clinicals online this semester. But he appreciates the hard work and adaptability of his professors to provide a quality education online.

And to him, this is the best option TCC can provide.

“The clinical experience, the hands-on part of the learning, is where I feel like they’re lacking,” he acknowledged.

“But I really don’t know another way that we can make this work while keeping everybody safe.”