Health majors face a new experience during pandemic

Carly Berlon graduated in May 2019 and works in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic. Photo courtesy of Carly Berlon

By Emily McCarthy

Health care-related majors study everything from nursing, dentistry and long-term care administration at Youngstown State University. Many of these majors spend time off campus learning to work in the field before they graduate. For those students, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new and challenging experiences.

Katie Hansen, a senior nursing student, said she was able to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in December and the second in January. Hansen said although adjusting to online learning has been difficult and working in the hospital has become more complicated, in some aspects, things are looking up.

“We are lucky to still be able to do our precepting … which is where we follow a nurse one-on-one in the hospital for 120 hours,” she said. “We originally weren’t allowed to [care for] COVID patients, but they changed the rules slightly and if you were precepting in an area that would commonly see COVID patients, they are now allowing you to care for them.”

Hansen said the nursing program also covered the cost of getting everyone fit-tested for N95 masks. Nursing students aren’t the only students seeing changes to their learning process in the past year. 

Daniel Van Dussen, director of long-term care and gerontology at YSU, said there were some initial, notable changes with his students when the pandemic hit, especially when it came to working and learning online.

“[Senior students] are allowed to do a lot more online distance learning for certain parts of their administrative training they weren’t allowed to before, so [there are] some more virtual types of things. Others are having to do more virtual work, especially the home-community-based services … they can’t be in offices since most of those people are working virtually themselves,” he said. “They do a 1,000 clock-work hour internship in long-term care, so it’s a full school year.”

Jeffery Allen, dean of Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, said while there have been a lot of difficulties throughout the learning experience during the pandemic, there are some positive effects, too.

“When you talk about the clinical side of so much of our training in both health care and human service fields, that has been more of a challenge for students,” he said. “In some way, the challenge of the pandemic has left an educational gift for them … you are getting all the same sort of didactic and clinical instruction that you would have two years ago before this happened, but now, you are also learning to be more nimble in the face of a public health crisis.”

Allen said while nurses are typically seen as the heroes of public health, respiratory care workers also play a big role, especially with COVID-19. One of the positive surprises he said he noticed was how this public health crisis seemed to increase awareness for these other disciplines and engage more students interested in these fields.