SYLVA – “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement…I will prevent diseases whenever I can…I will protect the environment which sustains us…and I will remember that I am a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.”
These statements are part of the Hippocratic Oath, a code of ethics sworn to by physicians. Through their medical training and personal virtue, other healthcare professionals from nurses to first responders also vow to accept the challenges and risks their professions bring.
While the world is facing unprecedented times, those promises apply now more than ever. Both experienced practitioners and senior students are joining forces to fight this global pandemic, including those at Southwestern Community College.
“Students are participating in a unique, critical time right now and they are witnessing what it actually means to be on the frontline of a medical crisis,” said Eric Hester, EMS Program Coordinator. “This is an important experience for them, and the demand for medical professionals, even those who are still in training, has never been greater.”
Certain health sciences programs, such as emergency medical science and nurse aide – along with all the programs at SCC’s Public Safety Training Center in Franklin – continue offering in-person, hands-on training at the request of the N.C. Community College System and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Students in all of these programs have the opportunity to opt out of clinicals or training without penalty.
EMS has transitioned all face-to-face courses to online delivery, and instructors are interacting with students using live video to lecture, demonstrate and clarify various modalities.
All but one of the clinical sites used by the EMS program are allowing students to complete their clinical rotations. The students have been outfitted with personal protective equipment (PPE) to use during training, and if a student is involved in a suspected COVID-19 case, the student observes the paramedic crew from a specified distance.
To date, all EMS students have accepted the face-to-face risks.
Second-year students are on schedule to complete their EMS degrees and certifications in May. Hester reports that the majority of EMS graduates already have a full-time job secured upon graduating.
In the Nurse Aide Program, Coordinator Donna Conner said her students will be completing clinical sessions using specific medical case scenarios implemented in SCC’s Health Sciences Simulation Lab. It’s equipped with high-tech mannequins who are able to emulate a variety of medical illnesses and verbally communicate with students. Students are strictly adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.
At this time, the clinical sites who partner with the nurse aide program allow only essential people to enter their facilities. Conner understands the decision but acknowledges that not being able to get hands-on experience is a setback for her students.
“I have mixed feelings. The learning opportunity regarding infection control is great. This situation really has my students’ full attention. I am not having to remind a single person to put on masks and gloves, to maintain social distancing, to wash their hands, etc.,” said Conner. “But, the lack of opportunity to practice bedside care, to develop therapeutic relationships or to feel empathy for residents is not a good thing at all.”
Despite those challenges, Conner believes she and her students are making the most out of a bad situation.
For the Public Safety Training Center, which delivers programs such as law enforcement training and firefighter training, SCC’s Curtis Dowdle said it is extremely important to continue training and developing skills for first-responders who are expected to be at the forefront of public crises.
“Public safety, like healthcare, is a profession that requires those working to come into close contact with those we serve and protect. Public safety jobs are in high-demand, and it’s imperative we provide excellent training to key professionals during these times,” said Dowdle, Dean of Public Safety Training. “We continue our operations through extreme weather, emergencies and even some holidays, because that’s how all public safety agencies are expected to function. The citizens and communities we serve expect that, and we are committed to giving them the quality they deserve.”
Dowdle reports that students in the EMS department are continuing emergency certification courses. The fire and rescue training program is offering daily training throughout SCC’s service area, and there are three law enforcement training academies in operation. All nine students of the current Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) class #81 are employed by agencies in Western North Carolina.
PSTC has also begun BLET class #82 in direct partnership with Western Carolina University. Although SCC and WCU recently signed an agreement that will allow students to receive a portion of their training on campus at WCU, the current class is taking all courses at the PSTC due to the current pandemic.
“All public safety disciplines must be adaptable and prepared to change how we train and operate. We’re training professionals to become situational leaders and critical thinkers,” said Dowdle. “SCC-PSTC is fortunate to have a team of dedicated, passionate professionals, both instructors and students.”
As for other programs, Dean of Health Sciences Mitch Fischer says that respiratory therapy, health information technology, massage therapy and medical assisting are all using either virtual courses and clinicals to carry on their education, or opting for small group labs and clinicals.
According to Fischer, North Carolina permits senior students in the respiratory therapy program to work as respiratory care assistants. This arrangement allows students to take on non-critical patients, which frees up experienced practitioners to care for more critical cases.
“While there is a great deal of concern for the safety of our students and their families, most of our students remain committed to their chosen profession, and they have accepted the risks with both courage and recognition for the important work they are doing,” said Fischer. “Our students come first, and we’re standing beside them to support them however we can. We are very proud of the work they are doing.”
For more information on any of SCC’s health sciences programs and their current operations, please contact Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Public Safety Training Center and its operations, please contact Dowdle at email@example.com.