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Under COVID-19, Nursing Students Learn to Treat Patients Online

In the clinical simulator, nursing students use virtual nurses to treat virtual patients.

LAUREN PEACE, HOST: University classes across the United States have been moved online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. That includes New York City’s nursing schools. Some nursing students are concerned that learning with virtual simulations instead of real patients means they will miss out on vital skills. Lucas Brady Woods reports.

LUCAS BRADY WOODS, BYLINE: Tawni Goodman is on track to graduate this summer from Pace University’s nursing program. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, she trained in a clinic, practicing with registered nurses treating real patients. But now she’s training remotely, on a nursing simulator called vSim. In it, Goodman treats virtual patients, with an avatar that appears on the screen. She tried it for the first time on Monday.

TAWNI GOODMAN: You have to introduce yourself, you have to wash your hands, you have to identify the patient, you know, check vital signs, and so these are all like little buttons that you can click to do that. And then your sim person will like go through those activities and then the patient will respond.

WOODS: Then, a menu pops up of possible questions or treatments, and Goodman has to select the right one.

GOODMAN: Under pain assessment, there's like, how do you rate your pain? Where is the pain? So there are, like, preset things to select, but there's hundreds of things to select.

WOODS: Afterwards her clinical professor holds a remote class discussion to analyze her choices. But, after day one, Goodman had doubts.

GOODMAN: I don't think that there's anything really that can take the place of actually being in a clinical setting, and learning from actual nurses, and seeing things and feeling things.

WOODS: When we contacted the Pace administration for an interview, they explained in an email that simulations have been used in the past to supplement in-person clinicals. But now, because of health concerns around the pandemic, that’s no longer possible. Initially they considered extending the term until face-to-face learning is safe again, but decided against it so that the nursing students could join the already strained healthcare system.

WOODS: Dr. Nataly Paslinski is the Executive Director of Simulation Learning at New York University’s nursing school, where students are also using simulations. She says the virtual trainings are effective despite student concerns.

NATALY PASLINSKI: I understand the apprehension of students, you know, feeling that, hey, you know, we may not be fully prepared, but you know what they're going to feel like that whether they have had that patient experience or not, it's the same feeling across the board as a new graduate nurse.

WOODS: Diana Hamilton has been a nurse in the intensive care unit for the past three years. She’s treating COVID-19 patients in Washington, D.C. right now, but plans to move to New York City next month. She’s also studying to be a nurse practitioner, and says there are certain things you just can’t learn from a simulation

DIANA HAMILTON: How do you speak to your patient? How do you figure out that person's motivations, their psyche, like what's going on for them.

WOODS: But at the end of day, Hamilton says they’ll get that in-person experience on the job.

HAMILTON: Hopefully, those nurses when they graduate, will get a good orientation period on their job where they get more of that experience in order to kind of supplement what maybe they were missing from having to do a simulated clinical.

WOODS: And in just a few months, graduating nursing students are going to join an overburdened healthcare system. Many of them are already thinking about post-graduation plans, and will soon be applying and interviewing for jobs. Lucas Brady Woods, Columbia Radio News.

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