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COVID-19 and Mentoring a Practical Nursing Student

COVID-19 and Mentoring a Practical Nursing Student

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Who would have thought a practical nursing student would have picked a long-term care home during a pandemic to complete nursing hours required for her to graduate.

That was my first reaction when management told me a nursing student was hired to work as a PSW at Edgewater Gardens LTC home in Dunnville, Ontario. She was to fill in a PSW position over the summer and decided to complete her final consolidation hours in the Practical Nursing Program instead.

Alissa Lambert a Practical Nursing student from Georgian College-Barrie campus started her placement with me last May.

Wow- did I ever have questions for management! What were they thinking? Who was Alissa? Could I handle a student? How would her teachers be involved? Was it safe for a student? Who would want to ever do this during a pandemic having seen the headlines about deaths in LTC homes and the strict rules they faced at this time?

On Alissa’s first day our facility was into its 73rd day of lockdown and our staff were still adjusting to our new workplace reality. I was pleasantly surprised to see Alissa was eager to learn and game for the challenge.

For our facility “lockdown” means that residents can’t leave the facility and no visitors or loved ones can come in, except in the case of patients in palliative care. Everyone had to wear PPE and staff were required to have temperature checks twice daily and COVID -19 swabs every two weeks.

If Alissa was intimidated by all this, she didn’t show it.

Nearly two months later, Alissa is currently halfway through the 450 hours she needs to complete her Practical Nursing Program; what a learning curve it has been working all three shifts during our rotations!

I am surprised and delighted to say that this has been the best experience ever for both of us.

The new way of providing care during a pandemic has taught Alissa that all things are possible. She’s learned about critical thinking skills, enhanced communication with physicians, virtual visits by specialists, enhanced infection control practices and the ability to work closely with your care team as outside resources are not available to us at this time.

When Alissa was asked what made her want to finish her school hours during COVID-19 her response was: “Why not? I wanted to challenge myself working during a pandemic and experience it first-hand, not just read about it in a textbook. I have learned what COVID-19 truly is and how people were affected by it.”

As the rules and regulations change almost daily regarding LTC homes we must adapt our plan to meet the needs of residents and staff. We will continue to change out of our street clothes into scrubs at work, wear our PPE, answer screening questions when entering and leaving work, wash our hands countless times, check our own temperatures twice a shift and do biweekly swab testing to ensure we remain free of COVID-19. Outside of work we’re committed to practicing social distancing by keeping our social interactions to a minimum. So far, our personal sacrifices have ensured all our residents and staff have remained COVID-19 free for over 136 days and counting.

Alissa will leave this placement with enhanced hands-on skills far beyond those of catheterizations, intramuscular (IM) injections, sterile dressing procedures, medication passes and narcotic administration. She has gained experience during this pandemic that can never be taken away.

As I sit back and reflect on the journey of mentoring Alissa during the COVID-19, this pandemic has given me a new appreciation of my own Nursing career. I have also learned many new skills after 31 years as an RPN.

As Florence Nightingale would say “so never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself”

Shannon Nolan RPN
Edgewater Gardens LTC
OPSEU RPN Divisional Treasurer
OPSEU Local 214 President/ PHRC Rep