The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected students everywhere, but those pursuing a healthcare career have faced additional challenges. Due to requirements for a combination of theoretical and real-world clinical training, health science students and faculty have had to adjust to new technologies in the virtual and clinical classroom. As a result, they have found new ways to communicate, share feedback, and continue learning despite COVID-19-related restrictions.

Key Pandemic-Related Changes in Healthcare Education

In the early months of the pandemic, as many as 1,100 colleges and universities suspended on-campus, in-person learning. Many classes moved online, with Zoom becoming the primary vehicle for students and teachers to communicate. 

Similar changes occurred for clinical rotation and residency programs, as many clinical sites were forced to discontinue on-site training for health science students and move to virtual instruction. In March 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommended all clinical rotation programs be paused due to COVID-19. Also, a survey by the National League for Nursing (NLN) revealed the overwhelming majority of nursing schools (72.2 percent) provided clinical training through virtual simulations due to a lack of available clinical settings 

As clinical sites and college campuses reopen, classroom and clinical training programs have resumed—but with some changes. Most notably, remote learning technology has become more widespread in healthcare education. Now, clinical and classroom healthcare education is more likely than ever before to have the following characteristics:

  • Hybrid and online versions of courses and materials that were once on-site only
  • A broader mix of live and simulated clinical training
  • Greater use of video to create collaborative learning experiences

How Teachers and Students Have Adjusted

The pandemic has impacted the healthcare world perhaps more than any other. Rising patient demand created a greater need for healthcare professionals, and at the same time many health science students have experienced delays and other shifts in their clinical education.

Despite the pandemic, healthcare education has continued to deliver a robust supply of much-needed healthcare graduates to hospitals and health systems. Though the method and location of clinical and classroom instruction have changed, faculty and students have adjusted and found creative solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

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A deeper focus on mental health

To successfully navigate the abrupt shift to virtual and hybrid learning, physical isolation, and new technologies, health science students have had to seek new ways to address their mental health concerns. As they work to overcome the varied challenges of virtual and hybrid learning, many students have turned to the following resources for support:

  • Virtual support groups
  • On-campus health center resources
  • Telehealth and telemedicine resources

For some students, the shift to virtual learning hasn’t been a distraction, but has actually supported overall mental health. As one medical student said in a recent study on the effects of virtual learning on clinical healthcare education, “I think I was surprised by how much better I feel during this remote learning period. I am better rested. I am exercising more and I’m eating healthier because I’m cooking more. This remote learning period is making me realize how much I was neglecting self-care during traditional rotations.”

Increased volunteerism

Healthcare students who experienced disruption in clinical rotations and residency programs found other ways to serve and learn from patients. In fact, students have supplemented their virtual clinical experiences by volunteering in many ways, such as:

  • Working at healthcare call centers
  • Operating drives for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Running errands and mobilizing childcare for working healthcare professionals

While volunteer work is not tied to formal teaching or clinical faculty assessments, it offers health science students new opportunities to learn and interact with those in need. In some cases, university faculty have helped by facilitating volunteer experiences for students. For example, students and faculty at Penn State Scranton’s nursing program volunteered at local COVID-19 vaccine clinics. As one nursing professor noted, “It’s so valuable when our students can go out into a community setting and sit down and talk to people ... For us faculty members, it’s great to watch them put into practice what we’ve taught them.”

Learning about remote patient treatment

Health science students weren’t the only ones kept away from clinical sites during the pandemic. Some patients also stayed away, preferring to delay elective procedures and get health treatment and advice remotely. According to McKinsey research, telehealth utilization has skyrocketed and is now 38 times higher than before the pandemic.

Given the rising use of telemedicine, today’s healthcare students need to be skilled in providing patient care remotely more than ever before. In recognition of this need, both students and faculty are adjusting to the addition of remote patient treatment methods to student clinical training programs. For example, Harvard Medical School revised its clinical examination courses to include training for telehealth. Students are now learning how to conduct remote patient exams, with faculty watching and assessing their skills in real time.

Ways to Support Healthcare Students and Faculty During the Pandemic

Creating an environment for students to thrive and gain the most value from their clinical and classroom education requires a solid partnership between program administrators, faculty, and students. To support your students and faculty as they continue to navigate continuing changes in healthcare education amid the pandemic, take the following actions:

1. Collect feedback.

Conduct faculty and student surveys to understand what’s working in classroom and clinical learning environments (both on-site and remote), and what additional resources are necessary to create a successful learning environment. For example, surveys can measure student and faculty attitudes about virtual learning programs, and they can also help identify any gaps in support for student mental health.

2. Help students prepare for clinical rotations.

Many clinical sites have now reopened their rotation and residency programs, so students must be sure to satisfy all clinical site immunization and testing requirements before going on-site. New COVID-19 vaccination requirements exist in most locations, and students can benefit from support in navigating those requirements and submitting their health documentation. 

One great way to help students is to offer an easy-to-use portal where they can submit forms, get reminders, and ask health and immunization-related questions. With this “one-stop-shop” support, you can help students avoid the unnecessary stress and anxiety associated with preparing for new clinical experiences.

3. Get help from experienced partners.

Supporting your students while meeting the expectations of faculty and your clinical site partners is no small task. But when you connect with providers who can support students’ smooth transition from classroom to clinical learning, you can reduce the chances of errors and make sure all health science students get the help and guidance they need. 

Committed and experienced providers can offer help through the following services and products:

  • Health and immunization management technology
  • Periodic reviews of your immunization tracking program and recommendations for incorporating best practices
  • Additional services to help you address other student screening needs, such as background checks and drug testing

Enhance Your Students’ Healthcare Education

Thus far, the pandemic has put health science students and faculty on a roller-coaster ride, exposing them to temporary pauses in clinical training and a mix of on-site and virtual instruction. Through it all, students have demonstrated resilience, even as they resume participation in clinical rotation and residency programs. 

To support positive clinical training experiences, you can play a valuable role in helping students collect and submit accurate and complete health and immunization data to clinical sites. For practical tips to help you meet your goals for immunization management, read our e-book, Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.

Immunization Compliance e-book_Corporate Screening