Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash
Even without coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the clinical capacity shortage is a significant issue that many health care programs battle. This pandemic has put a further strain on students’ and programs’ ability to find and secure required clinical experiences for students from all disciplines.
This summer I was given the opportunity to connect with three clinical education leaders to better understand their organization’s responses to the pandemic:
- Jessica Wells, MS, AVP of Education and Research at HCA Healthcare Physician Services Group
- Lori Colineri, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer — Southern Region at RWJBarnabas Health
- Christen Hairston, Ph.D., Executive Director of Student Affairs at Prisma Health
Christen Hairston, Ph.D., articulated why it’s critical for health systems to strategize their clinical learning environment’s capacity throughout this pandemic. She said, “In the near term, I am concerned that the groups who are now behind in their clinical education are currently overlapping with present and future clinical learners. As such, the pandemic and closing of many clinical learning environments for a time created a delay in supplying the workforce our state needs.”
Below are the top four things that the health care leaders above are doing to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our health system’s future clinician workforce supply.
#1 Prioritize a safe and quality clinical learning environment.
After COVID-19 hit, many clinical students were removed from the front lines due to the need to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), proper testing, and mitigate the perceived risk of exposure. Additionally, the cancellation of elective services impacted the number of learning experiences available. Safety and quality are always required, but the leaders I connected with pointed out the reason for this differs in a pandemic for several reasons.
Lori Colineri pointed out that, “This is an evolving virus. Researchers need to understand this virus, and we as an organization needed to understand the best practices before our faculty was able to teach our students. It is critical to create a safe, high-quality learning environment.”
#2 Communicate clearly and frequently with academic partners and learners.
One of the best ways to reduce uncertainty is to provide more information. Every health leader I connected with agreed on the importance of timely communication with their employees, academic partners, and students. For example, Prisma Health welcomes more than 8,000 learners a year. They lean on the tried-and-true daily (and now weekly) newsletter to communicate with these learners and their programs. It has been a solid way for their academic leadership team to convey one clear voice.
#3 Teach students to respect the preceptor’s journey through the pandemic.
Not every hospital has been impacted by a spike in COVID-19 patients, but for those that have, the aftermath can be traumatic. Students stepping into these facilities may not be entering a normal learning environment for some time. With respect and empathy in her voice, Lori said, “Some of our preceptors are grieving the loss of patients, colleagues, and in some cases their family members.”
Those on the front lines have seen so much, yet they still press on to provide care for us and pay it forward by teaching our future workforce.
#4 Enter the future with humility and openness.
Jessica Wells, MA, wisely said, “We’re not aiming to bounce back, but to manage through this pandemic.” She is watchful for how this pandemic may trigger major shifts in the clinical education community. “The realities we face with COVID-19, such as minimizing the number of audition rotations that occur for 4th-year medical students, may cause us to reconsider what a new ‘rite of passage’ looks like,” she said.
After these conversations, I felt at peace knowing these individuals are leading the charge to train our future workforce. They have led with humility and confidence during an extraordinarily difficult time and are clear on what matters most now and going forward.
To all members of the clinical education community, how has your health system thoughtfully and proactively managed through this pandemic?