Despite a challenging school year, nursing students at the University of Rhode Island have managed to continue their clinical practicums.

While many majors have been faced with the coronavirus pandemic, nursing majors have continued with their clinicals just like every other year, albeit with some new adjustments.

“We are actually pretty excited about what we have been able to accomplish in the middle of a pandemic,” Clinical Coordinator Deborah Quaratella said.

The school has split the students up into separate groups. Each student is provided with a N-95 mask, which were specifically fitted to the students’ faces, so there would be no air leakage, which would lead to a higher risk of getting COVID-19.

For this reason, the students had to come back to campus a week early so as not to lose any necessary clinical hours needed for their degrees. According to Quartella, the University was very cooperative with the students, helping them get back into housing a week before everyone else with assistance from on-campus housing and Greek Life.

Students signed up for specific times, either full days or half days, based on what times they were available. Fourth-year student Ana Caffarela said that at the start, some things were hectic with times and shifts being changed.

“In the beginning, I had some friends who were frustrated because they were supposed to have two morning shifts and ended up having like a day shift and a Friday night shift,” she said.

In spite of these early issues, Caffarela said the College of Nursing has done a great job organizing the clinicals and giving students the opportunity to get the necessary hands-on experience that students in other majors have not been able to get during the pandemic. 

Mary Levillee, associate dean of undergraduate programs, acknowledged that the College of Nursing had multiple backup plans and went through many of them planning out this year for student clinicals. They had to work around things such as student quarantines in an effort for the students to reach their needed hours for the semester. This ultimately succeeded as faculty worked overtime in order for the students to get the necessary experience. 

Quartella and Levillee said that these clinicals and interactions with doctors and physicians are critical in the development of the students as nurses.

“That interprofessional team, they are going to have to work with physicians, clinical workers, doctors, so clinicals give them that exposure as well,” Levillee said.

The clinical hours are decided by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which is a collaborative council of the Boards of Nursing in every state. Fifty percent of the hours are hands on, while 50 percent are hands off in the state of Rhode Island.

Even throughout the pandemic, URI was one of the few schools that did not ask for a COVID-19 exception to reduce the amount of designated hours students needed for clinical. They kept the standard of 50 percent of the hours being hands-on with actual patients and were able to succeed. 

After the pandemic, the College of Nursing will go by what criteria each individual hospital requires for students in order to complete their clinical there. At the moment these include things like being able to eat lunch together or interact with COVID-19 patients. This has led to post-clinical conferences being on Zoom rather than in-person as normal. 

In the end, Quartella and Levillee have considered this year, despite the difficulties, a success.

“The future nurses are going to be powerful and strong and confident,” Quartella said. “How many times can you say you went through nursing school during a pandemic? I look forward to seeing what our students will be as registered nurses.”