The COVID-19 pandemic has altered classwork for nursing and medical students at Ohio University, and it has given some students the option to work hands-on during the pandemic through early graduation.
Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, or HCOM, students have had to adapt to learning their required materials in a hybrid method instead of learning completely in-person and hands-on.
Beth Longenecker, dean of HCOM, said professors and students had to improvise during their labs in order to follow COVID-19 precautions.
“It's really hard to get that anatomical knowledge without being there with the cadaver, and osteopathic manual medicine skills is now being done online,” Longenecker said. “Our students come to campus Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays in smaller groups for these training sessions for the clinical skills. And we've actually structured that so you have the same lab partner constantly. You're always within the same group. The groups are separated by 6 feet.”
Leah Gregory, a junior studying nursing, believes that online learning has been easier.
“Honestly, it's easier, because it's online and you can choose when you want to least listen to the lectures and take your notes and stuff like that,” Gregory said.
However, Simon Moskowitz, a junior medical student, has had very few changes implemented in his classes.
“As a third-year medical student, we spend most of our days in the hospitals and clinics providing direct patient care, so that has not changed an overt amount,” Moskowitz said in an email. “But normally, we would have weekly in-person classes which are now completely virtual.”
In addition to the new format for instruction, COVID-19 has been implemented into coursework for students.
“They had a course in COVID management, COVID contact tracing management infection. And we’ve partnered with the Ohio Department of Health, so that, in some of our regions, they actually solicited our students to help in contact tracing,” Longenecker said. “That was one of the things we did for our fourth years, and then we actually offered it to our third years before they went out on rotations.”
Gregory said clinical projects for nursing were also altered to include COVID-19 information.
“In one of my classes…we're supposed to do clinicals for that class. And normally, we would go to schools and be school nurses, or do flu clinics and things like that,” Gregory said. “But they had to change that around. So, my group did a COVID information presentation to parents and moms about how to deal with their kids during this pandemic. And I know some other groups have done COVID-related projects. But we haven't really learned about COVID. It's more like projects and clinical things that we've implemented COVID into.”
Longenecker said for this coming semester, HCOM classes will remain in a hybrid format because it will be the most beneficial for the safety of the students while maintaining a learning environment.
“You can't learn to be a doctor completely online. You just can't do it. So as we're moving into this spring, we've made the decision to continue like we are now, with the hybrid, with the smaller groups and keeping students in these little pods so that we minimize the risk to them,” Longenecker said. “But we still can bring them in and let them be the next generation of doctors because you can't stop making doctors and creating these opportunities for new doctors in the middle of a pandemic either, because we need them.”
During the 2020 Spring Semester, HCOM made it possible for students to graduate seven weeks early in order to help with the pandemic.
Fourth-year students had to be approved to skip elective courses in order to graduate early and participate in residency programs.
“We applied to our creditor to get an exemption for some of their elective time…so that they could go out and join some of the residencies that were willing to accept students early into the residency training program so they could start taking care of patients,” Longenecker said. “So since you have to go through all of those steps, I don't know if we'll do that, again.”
The pandemic itself has impacted how some students feel toward their majors in the medical field. Moskowitz finds the pandemic to be difficult on his mental health as a medical student.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an undeniably, ever-evolving experience for everyone, and especially to future healthcare professionals in training,” Moskowitz said in an email. “The past year has been relentlessly demanding, frustrating, and both physically and emotionally draining. With that said, it has not swayed my interest from medicine, but instead, reinforced it, by adding another dynamic feature to an already rapidly changing field that I have the privilege of being an integral part of. I love what I do.”