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Employees Participate in Nursing Clinicals

Edgecombe Community College employees served as standardized patients last fall to assist with nursing clinicals since many healthcare facilities were closed to students due to COVID-19 restrictions. Shown is Jennifer Norville, director of health occupations, being cared for by associate degree nursing students (from left) Ashley Williams, Mykishia Silver, and Samantha Wilson.

Clinical experiences are an important component of education and training in nursing programs at Edgecombe Community College. Each semester, nursing students spend two days each week for two months in clinicals, during which supervised students interact with patients in healthcare settings.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many clinical sites closed their doors to nursing students in 2020. Last fall, college employees stepped in to help.

In November and December, instructors and staff served as standardized patients for first-year associate degree nursing students and practical nursing students. These students had been working regularly with patient simulators, but nursing instructors wanted students to interact with people.

According to Barbara Knopp, chair and director of nursing programs at ECC, “Standardized patients promote the practice and assessment of individual skills such as interpersonal communication, verbal and physical assessment of the patient, and diagnostic reasoning.”

For the nursing students, these standardized patients helped boost confidence. As associate degree nursing student Avery Williams says, “It’s helpful to have a live person who can talk to us and provide feedback.”

According to Ami Denton, nursing instructor, “Last spring and summer, we used patient manikins in medical simulations to fulfill clinical requirements. By fall, senior-level students were allowed back in the hospitals, but our first-year students were not. Also, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities still are not allowing students in their buildings.”

In September, ECC President Dr. Greg McLeod sanctioned the use of employees as standardized patients. “Utilizing employee volunteers to portray patient scenarios for the instruction and assessment of nursing students was just one of the many ways we have responded to challenges created by the pandemic,” he says.

Employees Sheryll Wood, dean of the Division of Arts and Sciences; Carole Mehle, English/humanities instructor; Jennifer Norville, director of health occupations; and Mary Tom Bass, director of public information, each spent afternoons over the course of up to two weeks pretending to be patients. Nursing staff assigned the four with specific medical issues that included dementia, arthritis and pain, lack of mobility, and communication challenges.

“Reasoning and communication skills are critical for nursing professionals. Patient simulators are great, but there is no substitute for human interaction,” says Brittany Cherry, nursing instructor.

Williams agrees, “I can relate better to a human than a manikin. There is an emotional connection.”

Students weren’t the only beneficiaries of the employee-assisted clinicals. Jennifer Norville coordinates the training of nurse aides, community health workers, medication aides, and phlebotomists at ECC. As a standardized patient, she portrayed an elderly patient suffering from arthritis and pain.

“I learned firsthand that it can be very intimidating to have several healthcare providers walk into a patient’s room all at once,” Norville explains. “In my classes in the future, we will stress that students need to explain to patients who they are and why they are there, and use terms the patient can understand. Not everyone knows what a vital sign is, and that may be scary to a patient.”

Denton says that having employees take on patient roles worked well, so well in fact that the nursing program may incorporate standardized patients into future clinical experiences.