Assistant professor Sandi Lachapelle (left) discusses medicine administration to first year practical nursing students Shona Myers, May Cooper and Ausya Greenridge. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

TRU Williams Lake nursing program adapts to COVID-19

Williams Lake students are learning virtually mostly, with very few labs

Practical nursing students enrolled at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus have adjusted to COVID-19 restrictions in the program’s delivery.

Assistant professors Rhonda McCreight and Sandi Lachapelle said some of the students were nervous at first and did not think they would do very well because most of the course is being taught virtually.

“A lot of them are doing quite well with this type of learning,” McCreight added. “They can do it at their pace, in their homes and they don’t have to drive to school every day which saves a lot of time and money.”

Lachapelle said in some ways it has been a lot better because the students have had to be more proactive to get the concepts instead of relying on the standard lecture format and sitting passively and receiving information.

“It’s a lot more active and I think we are seeing the results in their marks. These guys are really rocking it.”

They meet with the students every morning for an hour to touch base, answer questions and talk about the material they are learning.

“I might put them into little breakout groups. The program we use I can put them into small groups online,” Lachapelle said.

As they finished up a nursing lab session with six students on Thursday, Nov. 12, McCreight said normally all 18 students would attend labs two days a week.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the students are getting four, three-hour labs in the first semester because there can only be six students in the lab at once.

All the rest of the learning is done through a virtual platform.

Big Lake resident Joel Bruneski said when Mount Polley Mine closed he worked as a paramedic up north and then applied to the nursing program.

“I absolutely love it and am glad I’m doing it,” he said. “It really builds on my paramedic training. I would like more hands-on learning, but I am grateful the program is going.”

A mother of three, May Cooper said she did one year of upgrading before she applied.

“I love it,” she said. “Learning the terminology is a big challenge but I know I am setting a good example for my kids. I cannot stress enough that education is so important.”

She also credited her band at Tl’esqox First Nation for providing her with ‘a lot of support.’

Jenna Alphenaar, graduated from the program in 2017, and works as TRU’s nursing lab assistant as well as at Cariboo Memorial’s medical surgical unit, emergency department and home and community nursing doing COVID-10 testing.

For the labs Thursday, she posed as a patient while Lachapelle and three students worked through a module on administering medication.

Across the room McCreight was teaching three more students about wound assessment and care.

All of the students were practicing filling out charts for each client.

In December the students will be doing clinical experience at Retirement Concepts or Deni House and said it will be interesting to see what the clinical supervisors observe considering the students will have knowledge and theory, but less lab experience.

For next semester, however, they’ve asked ‘for the moon,’ McCreight said.

They are hoping for weekly four hour labs and if not then every two weeks for eight hours.

The second semester is heavy on bedside skills.

One of the big additions to the program has been provide access to Evolve which is a one-stop online portal for healthcare educators and students to purchase digital teaching and learning materials.

Normally only faculty have used it.

“I think even after we resolve this [COVID] we will continue to use some of these platforms,” Lachapelle said. “There are definitely some things that have to be done in person, but a lot can be done virtually. You cannot replace practicing with a person.”

Lachapelle started teaching in September 2018. She is a nurse practitioner and still does locums.

McCreight has been with the program since 2008.

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