RIVER FALLS — When Olivia Johnson returned to the nursing lab at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s River Falls campus as a graduate student this year, the 2015 graduate found things quite different than her time in the program. Fortunately, she was able to help restore a sense of normalcy this summer as students returned to face-to-face lab times.
“It was difficult for the students not being able to be in a classroom to form relationships with other students,” Johnson said of the immediate impact of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring. “Students always get encouragement from each other.”
With precautions taken, nursing students were able to return to campus this summer, where they found Johnson and instructor Renee Christiansen, a 19-year veteran at CVTC, ready to help them.
“Everyone was screened coming in and needed to wear masks,” Christiansen said of the return. “We stay far apart and use a lot of hand sanitizer. Toward the end of class we put things away and try to sanitize everything. We touch a lot of things during class.”
Christiansen noted that during the shutdown the students received the same amount of training time, but their clinical assignments at health care facilities were canceled.
“What they were not getting was the direct patient care,” she said. “We are hoping to get them back in the hospital setting with some restrictions this fall.”
“In a clinical setting, you are really getting the experience working directly with patients,” said Johnson, who is originally from River Falls.
Johnson said she wants to see current CVTC students have the kind of experience she enjoyed at CVTC. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UW-Eau Claire and is now a graduate student in an online program of Saint Xavier University in Chicago working toward credentials to become a nursing instructor.
Olivia Kaiser of Baldwin was happy to be picking up some credits and experience this summer. She’s preparing to enter the bachelor’s degree nursing program at UW-Eau Claire, but can’t get in until spring 2021. “I only live 20 minutes from here and the program is hands-on,” Kaiser said. “They are doing a great job of keeping us safe. We wear masks and use a lot of hand sanitizer.”
Charlice Smith, who will be a senior at Ellsworth High School this spring, is happy to be getting an early start on her career plans by taking the summer class at CVTC.
“My mom is enrolled in the nursing program at CVTC, and that was the final push to get me to come,” Smith said. “I had been thinking about it for two years. It’s really beneficial to have this program here. You save a lot of money.”
Smith added that this summer she learned a lot about what she calls the “mechanics of nursing” by working with mannequins.
Christiansen said students and instructors are looking forward to conducting more simulations in the labs as the 2020-21 academic year gets underway later this month. While clinical assignments remain an uncertainty, the state has given a break to students unable to complete the usual clinical experience requirement.
If necessary, instructors will return to the plans they substituted for the clinical experience in the spring, Christiansen said. “We did more case studies where the students would tell us how they would handle certain situations. We also did videos of us working with patients and they would critique it. So, at least they would have some live action to look at.”
Christiansen added that they would continue to make student safety a top priority, even as they return to some hands-on lab work. “Until there is a vaccine, we need to take precautions.”