The Future of Healthcare Education Post-COVID-19
As COVID-19 continues its course, schools across the U.S. have embraced distance learning to prioritize student safety and wellbeing in the midst of the pandemic. But most healthcare education programs rely on months of clinical training to adequately prepare students for handling patient relationships and needs. How will these programs have to adapt to provide high-quality clinical care education virtually?
Finding the right answer requires rethinking how we teach and learn in healthcare. “Unbelievable changes are being made in nursing education,” says Beverly Malone, CEO at the National League for Nursing. “We can revise our curricula to support our students staying healthy and at the same time giving them a top-level experience.”
Distance learning in healthcare has been growing for a while, she notes, but the pandemic has accelerated that shift. Here’s how COVID-19 is changing healthcare education — and how you can turn change into opportunity.
The pandemic may have accelerated the shift to online learning in healthcare education, but virtual learning seems likely to be here to stay, at least for the next one to two years. While it does present challenges for clinical education, it also offers unique learning advantages. An increase in virtual learning will help students prepare to support patients through telehealth visits and help them be more comfortable during virtual interview processes.
“No one is giving up on the relationship between the nurse and the patient,” Malone says. There are several levels to patient care, and they don’t all require in-person learning. Malone predicts that most healthcare education programs will adopt a hybrid model that relies largely on virtual education combined with in-person practicums. Programs from Frontier Nursing University and Gaylen College provide a model.
Virtual learning also widens the pool for preceptors in other locations. This allows better matches between students and preceptors, such as for advanced practice nursing, for example, since they are no longer limited by locality.
Many teaching hospitals, which account for over 1000 hospitals across the U.S., have minimized or eliminated their practicum programs, which means healthcare students will not get direct training in high-risk areas, like the emergency department. This will affect residency programs and intern selection and ultimately impact hiring and onboarding for these healthcare professionals. “We have to totally readapt and reevaluate our onboarding process,” says Devon Engholm, Emergency Department Nurse Manager at Tennova Healthcare – Clarksville. “We’ve had to go slower and add incremental learning focused on the basics of patient emergency care.”
HR teams at healthcare organizations need to be prepared for onboarding new hires who may have less hands-on experience with patient care. For many students and new graduates during COVID-19, their job will be their first experience with sustained in-person patient care. Engholm says building new hires’ confidence in lower risk roles and allowing them to learn the basics of patient interactions as a tech can help alleviate the anxiety they may feel in these new roles. Each new trainee requires a much more personal and intentional training plan, she says, and the entire leadership team needs to be more involved to take the onus off the trainer.
Without being exposed to a high-stress working environment, it’s hard for healthcare students to develop their individual processes for managing stress. “Their confidence level is so much lower because they didn’t get their intense practicums,” Engholm says. “Because of the anxiety and stress levels, we’ve added more frequent touchpoint meetings and training opportunities.”
In the past, practicums have primarily been focused on hospital care. With teaching hospitals minimizing their practicum programs, programs can seek out opportunities to place students in other areas that are experiencing an increase in preventative or long-term care needs. “There’s still room for practice in other areas,” Malone points out. Students can gain experience working in nursing homes or learning preventative care in distributed locations.
This type of hands-on education can also help close the gaps in care across minority communities. There are opportunities for more holistic learning when we reach out to the larger, more diverse community rather than just focusing on those who have been hospitalized. “Those communities have been there all along but we’ve been more focused on the hospital than the community at large,” Malone says. Focusing healthcare education on low-risk community healthcare settings brings the additional advantage of educating aspiring healthcare workers on health disparities.
Although COVID-19 has caused massive disruption to healthcare systems across the U.S., it has also prompted us to reconsider strategies for teaching and learning. Taking advantage of this disruption to pioneer better healthcare education can help lead to better patient outcomes for all.