For the 60 soon-to-be graduates of the College of the Canyons Registered Nurse Class of 2020, entry into the world of nursing will be baptism by fire.
After graduating virtually on Wednesday, June 3, many of them will be joining other nurses and healthcare workers in the frontline battle against COVID-19.
“This semester has been unlike any other,” said Mary Corbett, director of the college’s nursing program. “For us to be sending 60 graduates into practice, having met all Board of Registered Nursing requirements to sit for the NCLEX licensure examination, is nothing short of amazing. We are so proud of our students for never giving up through an incredibly challenging time.”
As coronavirus (COVID-19 cases) began to escalate in communities nationwide, nursing clinical training programs came to a screeching halt as hospitals began to mobilize to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases.
Ashley Olivier, a first-year COC nursing student, became understandably worried about how she would be able to fulfill the nursing clinical hours required by the BRN to graduate.
“Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the safety of all nursing students being a top priority, I was concerned how we would finish our clinical hours that are required by the BRN since local hospitals are not allowing nursing students to perform clinical hours,” Olivier said.
Fortunately, on April 3 the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) waived restrictions on nursing student clinical hours, reducing the requirement that clinical hours be in direct patient care from 75 percent down to 50 percent for nursing students in obstetrics, pediatrics, and mental health/psychiatric courses.
For nursing students in geriatrics and medical-surgical courses, the waiver allows up to 50 percent of patient care through simulation or lab training provided that certain conditions are met. The college’s nursing leadership successfully completed the requirements to gain the full benefit of the 50 percent waiver for COC students.
The waiver also made it possible for the Nurse Education Consultant (a local BRN representative) to approve clinical sites through a simplified process, which allows for timely approvals for programs seeking new settings for clinical instruction.
Calling the waiver the best news she has received in weeks, Olivier now feels optimistic about the future of her student-nursing experience.
COC’S 177 nursing students are expected to benefit from the DCA waiver, which will allow a full cohort of 60 students to graduate at the end of the spring 2020 semester and join the fight against COVID-19.
In response to current conditions, COC nursing faculty designed and launched a telehealth program focused on providing mental health and self-care support for Canyons Promise students at the college. Nursing students, who provide information and support utilizing instructor-developed materials, can count the hours spent providing mental health services toward the training hours needed for their psychiatric nursing course. Students are supervised by nursing clinical faculty via Zoom for a virtual clinical experience.
“I’m now able to complete my clinical hours and do it in a way that’s never been done before in the history of the College of the Canyons nursing program,” Olivier said. “I am excited to be able to complete my clinical requirements by using my skills I am learning in my current psychology rotation to help any which way I can in the community using telehealth.”
COC nursing student Jacob White says gaining the telehealth experience as a student is priceless.
“To have the ability to use this technology to help our fellow students in our college is not only helping us nursing students, but also the rest of the college campus,” White said.
White says he has noticed how college students are eager for follow-up calls and have become aware of college resources that are available to them.
“To be a nursing student going through their psychology portion during a pandemic is something you would never expect, but I am proud of our nursing faculty and school’s administration for providing us with this ability,” White said. “This is a big change toward the future of healthcare and College of the Canyons is clearly fostering it.”
In addition, the more than 80 COC nursing students volunteering at the on-campus COVID-19 testing site can count those hours towards their training requirements and completion. Fourteen students and one faculty member staff the site, seven days per week, working with L.A. County Fire Department personnel in conjunction with leadership from Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. On some days, students help conduct more than 300 self-administered COVID-19 tests at the drive-through site.
“I feel proud to have the opportunity to be a part of a team that can change students’ lives for the better,” said Dr. Kathy Bakhit, Dean of School of Health Professions and Public Safety at the College.
Bakhit says that the COC nursing program is working hard to identify additional volunteer opportunities for students to fit course objectives.
“I am inspired by their moral courage, their dedication to the students, and their attention to the quality of the program,” said Bakhit of the college’s dedicated nursing faculty.
Bakhit also lauded Chancellor Dr. Dianne Van Hook for her strong leadership and advocacy toward pushing for the changes.
“Honestly, without her effort and focus where she organized and rallied over 65 other college presidents and chancellors across the state to elevate the issue and articulate the changes needed, I am not sure that colleges would have this opportunity we have today,” said Bakhit.
Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook called the waiver a perfect “example of getting a barrier out of the way so we can work better, together.”
“I am beyond proud of our nursing faculty and students who refused to give up and demonstrated incredible grit, courage and ingenuity,” Van Hook said. “I am confident that this experience will make our students better prepared for the challenging and rewarding profession that is nursing.”
Corbett noted that the focus of faculty has remained on student safety and success.
“Because of the leadership and individual care provided by innovative professors, and because of the support of so many on campus and beyond, we are moving forward to the successful completion of the semester,” Corbett said. “We could not be more pleased.”
Van Hook will address the nursing graduates during the virtual graduation on June 3. Director Corbett, faculty and graduating students will also speak.
“Students are looking forward to sharing this special time with their loved ones,” Corbett said.
On Saturday, June 6, nursing graduates will receive their COC nursing pin and certificate of graduation at a special drive-thru event at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center.
Organized by COC Professor Shaunasey Lane and students, the event will allow graduates to take photos with a guest and nursing faculty in a socially distant manner.