Each semester, hundreds of students at Calhoun Community College get the chance to work alongside medical professionals for firsthand experience in their chosen field. However, it's not every semester a student gets to experience what it's like to work in a hospital during a pandemic. 

The experience won't be that much different from a student's typical clinical — they'll still fulfill a key component of their education by working in a real-life health care setting — but it does provide an opportunity to help facilities that need additional staff due to COVID-19 spread in their community.

Bret McGill, dean of health sciences at Calhoun, said hospitals reached out to the school before Christmas to ask if there were any students willing to do clinicals in their facility. 

“They needed the help, so we had students as well as some faculty volunteer,” McGill said. 

He said it worked out great, and with numbers higher now than they were in December, the school is looking forward to helping again. There are more than 800 students at different levels or stages of training at Calhoun across its seven different programs, and they can help in various units through a hospital. 

“They do everything a patient needs done,” he said of the students. “They may feed, they may bathe, they may sit and talk — everything the staff needs done for a patient, our students do. They give shots, they give medicine.”

It's all supervised, so students aren't left by themselves, and the tasks or assigned unit depends on how much training the student has already had. For example, new nursing students won't start clinicals until March, after they've learned basic safety fundamentals, such as how to use personal protective equipment.

Once that's done, “they're not working critical care, they're not working on patients that are really, really sick,” McGill said. “They start on basic fundamentals. When they hit the second, third, fourth semester, then their care does the same thing. They'll start working in ICUs, step-down units, things like that.”

Not every group of students will be working with patients in a hospital setting, either. With elective surgeries on hold in some facilities, surgical students may have to find another way to meet their clinical requirement. 

To that end, Calhoun has worked to create virtual and other opportunities for students, McGill said. 

“We're doing a lot better job navigating the virtual world, trying to create simulated clinicals,” he said. “...We've even got students videoing themselves at home, performing a skill, then sending that to the instructor and we evaluate that.”

Calhoun has also arranged for students to take orientation and classes for the first week online, allowing them extra time to quarantine at home after the new year holiday. Students are set to return to the classroom next week, McGill said.

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