Nursing students from the University of Rhode Island have the opportunity to work on the front lines in the fight again COVID-19. Photo courtesy of the University of Rhode Island.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spike, some University of Rhode Island nursing students are putting their lives on the line to help hospitals and patients.

Preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo called on nursing students to join the healthcare workforce to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior URI nursing students Preston Stachelek and Janelle Chamberland are just a few of the students who have answered this call.

Through a 90-day emergency certified nursing assistant (CNA) license, nursing students who have completed one semester of studies can begin working in hospitals across Rhode Island. For URI students, this means having successfully completed the NUR 234 course. NUR 234 is a basic nursing class that teaches students how to perform basic patient assessments.

Stachelek decided to join in the effort to fight COVID-19 after hearing about the 90-day emergency CNA license.

“I felt like I really wasn’t doing enough to help in this scenario,” Stachelek said. “I work as an [emergency medical technician] in Charlestown, but we haven’t had a lot of coronavirus patient contact. And I just know with the number of patients overwhelming hospitals and how hard the nurses are working that aren’t really particularly used to working in these intensive care unit ventilator settings, it can be really overwhelming and I would just love to be able to help out as much as I can.”

Stachelek said she recently applied for one of the COVID-19 positions at Rhode Island Hospital, hoping to be on the front lines after getting her application approved by the Department of Health. She is still waiting for that license to be mailed to her.

Also wanting to lend help during this pandemic, Chamberland decided to apply for a CNA license. She has sent applications to several hospitals in Rhode Island. 

“I feel prepared for the position as a CNA, but I don’t think anyone is prepared for the situation going on right now in general,” Chamberland said. “It’s just kind of overwhelming. But I trust that I can do a good job given the teachings that I’ve received for the last four years working towards nursing.”

While the spread of the virus has most of the world practicing social distancing, it has also caused concern for those like Chamberland and Stachelek entering the workforce. Chamberland said that she was concerned about possibly spreading the virus to her family because of her work as an active CNA. 

Stachelek said that everyone should be cautious in this situation, as there is not much known about the virus, and anyone can be vulnerable. However, she is eager to offer help after working in an emergency room during an advanced medical surgical class, as well as serving as an EMT. 

“I’ve always been someone who loves emergency scenarios, and have been looking forward to working in an emergency department since I became a freshman in nursing school,” Stachelek said. 

For those who qualify and are interested in obtaining this CNA license, Stachelek and Chamberland encourage applying. 

“The application process was really easy,” Stachelek said. “It’s just a five or six-page application that you just have to fill out with basic information, mostly pertaining to where they can mail the licensure and if you’ve ever had a license in the past that you haven’t been able to get granted just to make sure they’re not giving anyone a license that shouldn’t be getting it.”

The Assistant Dean of the College of Nursing Jessica Boisclair must be contacted thereafter to certify that students have completed NUR 234, according to Stachelek. The next step in this process is to send the application to the Rhode Island Department of Health for approval. 

“We’re all in this together,” Chamberland said. “This is the field we chose to be a part of, so it’s kind of our job to help, and even if you aren’t in nursing, just finding ways to volunteer and help out at this time because we’re all in the same boat trying to get through this.”