The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected students pursuing professions in the healthcare field, not least of which was the dramatic shift to virtual clinical training in the early months of the pandemic.

Because of the risk of exposure and the need for clinical sites to shift all available resources to COVID-19 patients, many students had their clinical rotations cut short. However, whether their clinical rotations were canceled or moved online, nursing students in particular have managed to continue learning in new and creative ways.

To support your nursing students as they return to on-site clinical rotations amid these uncertain times, you can offer them resources and tools to smooth the path to successful and rewarding clinical training experiences.

Nursing Clinical Rotation Programs Are Evolving

When emergency rooms were filled to capacity, closed to everyone but patients and the professionals treating them, clinical sites were forced to discontinue on-site training for nursing and other health science students. To help students who still needed more clinical training hours to graduate, many programs moved to virtual instruction. According to a National League for Nursing (NLN) survey, the overwhelming majority of nursing schools (72.2%) have provided clinical training through virtual simulations during the pandemic due to a lack of available clinical settings.

Flexibility to Meet Demand

In the early months of the pandemic, state licensing boards also offered flexibility in how nursing students could satisfy clinical experience requirements for graduation. According to a state-by-state list compiled by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), many state boards began to allow virtual clinical rotation training with greater frequency, and some offered the following options:

  • Relaxed enforcement of clinical education requirements
  • Temporary removal or relaxation of specific hour requirements of clinical experience needed to graduate
  • Acceptance of volunteer hours at a healthcare facility as clinical experience

For many health science professions, these flexible changes were necessary, because clinical sites continue to need newly trained healthcare professionals to treat the growing number of patients. In nursing, in particular, new graduates have been necessary to replace the growing number of retiring baby boomers and help clinical sites keep up with rising demand for nursing care.

A Push to Return to Clinical Settings

Though some nursing programs have increased enrollment and returned to in-person clinical rotations, others remain constrained by the lack of available clinical sites and faculty. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing schools were forced to reject over 80,000 qualified applicants for the 2020-21 school year.

And while the AACN acknowledges the role of simulations and virtual clinical experiences, it also recommends that “students should be encouraged to return to their clinical settings if safety measures are in place.” As your students begin to return to on-site clinical training, they will need your help to understand new requirements and other changes prompted by the pandemic.

How to Support Nursing Students Pursuing Clinical Rotations

While live and recorded simulations are better than nothing at all, for many nursing students, virtual training can’t completely take the place of traditional on-site training. As one clinical instructor told, “Students have expressed that they don’t feel as prepared and quite ready to be nurses yet, since their time was cut short in the hospitals and they only had virtual simulations. They constantly question if what they are doing will be good enough.”

To support students so they are prepared for clinical rotation and are set up to have the best clinical rotation experiences possible, you can take the following actions.

Offer Assistance and Communication About Available Opportunities

Amid the pandemic, there are alternate ways for nurses to gain relevant clinical experience besides the more traditional rotation programs at clinical sites. For example, many nurses have volunteered to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccination to the general public. Others have gained experience working in COVID-19 call centers and telehealth organizations. 

For nursing students to pursue available opportunities, they need to know about possible options for gaining real-world exposure to patients. By communicating available training opportunities and offering assistance to help them connect to those opportunities, you can help students acquire the clinical hours they need to graduate.

Explore key strategies for improving immunization efficiency, accuracy, and  compliance. Download the guide. →

Help Nursing Students Understand Clinical Site Health and Safety Requirements

Thankfully, the days of personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages in hospitals and health centers seem to be over, and clinical sites can maintain health and safety standards for patients and those who care for them. But to help students feel safe in a clinical environment, you should provide detailed resources to help them understand the health and safety precautions clinical sites take to protect patients, employees, and students. 

For example, you can make students aware of the health and immunization requirements reputable clinical sites have implemented. When students can access information about requirements for vaccination, health testing, and PPE use, they may be less likely to get anxious about their return to in-person clinical rotations.

Give Students an Effortless Way to Submit Health and Immunization Information

You can help students prepare for day one of their clinical rotations by providing easy access to a mobile-friendly portal where they can submit their health information. Clinical sites are likely to require proof of immunization for a range of illnesses, including polio, tetanus, polio, and in some locations, COVID-19. In addition, they are also likely to request the following documents from students:

  • Health screening questionnaires
  • Medical history and physical exam forms
  • Photo identification and demographic forms
  • Student enrollment details

An online portal not only makes it easy for students to submit health documents and information, but it can also streamline your process of verifying the information before sending it to clinical sites.

Partner with a Trusted Immunization Management and Student Screening Provider 

Given the many responsibilities you have in managing student support services and relationships with clinical sites, it makes sense to get the help you need from knowledgeable partners. When you work with experts in student immunization management, you can access end-to-end tools to help your students navigate clinical site requirements and prepare for their clinical rotations. 

The right partner can offer you the following benefits and services:

  • Automation technology to streamline the process of collecting, verifying, and sharing student health data in compliance with HIPAA and FERPA data protection requirements
  • Guidance from qualified healthcare professionals who can interpret student medical records and testing results
  • Support to implement the best practices in immunization management, including COVID-19 vaccination tracking and contact tracing
  • Additional services to help you address related student screening and compliance needs, such as background checks and drug testing

Prepare Nursing Students for Clinical Rotations During COVID-19

Though the pandemic disrupted clinical learning experiences for some nursing students, other opportunities are emerging for students to gain valuable learning experiences in virtual learning environments and clinical site locations. By offering your nursing students resources and support to meet clinical site requirements, you can keep them informed and well-equipped to navigate their clinical rotation experience successfully. 

For more ideas to help you achieve clinical program management success, read our guide, Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.

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