Terra State healthcare students turn pandemic into opportunity to gain positive experiences for their career

Medical assisting student giving COVID vaccine
Terra State medical assisting and nursing students administered COVID-19 vaccines to Sandusky County school personnel at a clinic in February. 

Terra State Community College’s response to combating COVID-19 cases on campus has benefited students enrolled in the College’s healthcare programs by expanding curriculum and providing numerous volunteer experiences on campus that strengthened their skills as future professionals.

Students in nursing, health information technology and medical assisting programs have received first-hand experience with COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics on campus.

Nursing students saw additional COVID-19 based content in their lectures including pathophysiology, signs and symptoms, complications, treatments, vaccinations, prevention and precautions of the virus. COVID-19 precautions and safety were also added to lab courses to prepare students for their clinical rotations at local hospitals and medical facilities.

Nursing students also gained learning experience with COVID-19 at their clinical sites. One student’s site had a respiratory therapist come in and talk to the students about COVID-19 and its impact on the lungs and respiratory system.

Linda Robinson, nursing student, was able to administer vaccines through her preceptorship with the emergency room at The Bellevue Hospital.

“My preceptor nurse and myself went down and administered over 50 COVID-19 vaccines that day. That was an experience that I don’t think anyone else had at that time,” said Robinson.

The health information technology (HIT) field has not been affected by the pandemic as much as other healthcare fields, with many HIT professionals already working remotely during a normal year. HIT students learning medical billing and coding were taught new codes to add their arsenal specifically for COVID-19 diagnoses. Students have had a mixture of in-person and remote clinical opportunities this school year.

Although the curriculum for the medical assisting program has not changed, students are able to use COVID-19 as a real-world example when learning about topics such as immunology, antibodies and vaccination procedures. Students also gained experience with telemedicine in respect to medical billing and coding, medical asepsis and disinfecting, as well as patient interaction. Patient interaction is the first skill students learn in classes, as this is the main task of medical assistants.

In September 2020, Terra State announced the start of a program to provide COVID-19 testing to all students and employees, in partnership with The Bellevue Hospital and ProMedica. Medical assisting students administered and prepared tests to be sent to each partner medical provider. In January, the students administered 485 rapid tests within 10 days to employees and students through an initiative to test all who would be on campus to find asymptomatic cases before spring semester started.

Medical assisting students continue to provide PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests, as well as antigen testing. Rapid and antigen testing are analyzed and reported within their lab. Terrie Hopkins, coordinator of the medical assisting program, says that the students are more confident when working with patients at their practicum site because of their experiences on campus.

Kylie Brown, medical assisting student, agrees. “These are things that we would not get to do if COVID-19 were not around. I think these experiences will help demonstrate that I have knowledge and understanding of the current pandemic. All of these activities are also strictly voluntary, which will show that I can make a commitment to helping others, and that I truly care about my career choice,” said Brown.

Students from all three programs worked together during Sandusky County Public Health’s vaccination clinics, which were hosted on campus at Terra State. Medical assisting and nursing students helped to administer vaccinations and monitor patients. HIT students helped to input data for each patient into a computer system, which had to be communicated to the state 24 hours after the dose was administered.

HIT student Alexandra Shaull credits the vaccination clinics as a beneficial experience to give her a better understanding of what to expect going into the HIT field. 

“I believe my experience at the vaccination clinics gave me some valuable insight as a first-year HIT student. I have a better understanding of the specifics of my field and will be able to use the knowledge when starting my career,” said Shaull, “I think of it as getting a bit of a head start in developing the skills for my future career.”