Undergraduate health professional programs told to stay home

Students in medicine, nursing, and rehabilitation therapy no longer in clinical setting

Faculty of Health Sciences students finally told to stay home.
Journal File Photo

Undergraduate students in health professional programs were told to stay home on Wednesday after being initially exempted from the March 16 suspension on undergraduate courses.

In interviews with The Journal, two nursing students, whose names have been protected, expressed frustration with the University’s decision to initially continue clinical learning for students in health professional programs.

On March 18, the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) announced they would be immediately suspending clinical learning activities for medical students, nursing students, occupational therapy students and physical therapy students, as of the end of the day.

The University decided to suspend undergraduate classes for all other departments on their Kingston campus for one week on March 13, before delivering courses remotely through online platforms until the end of semester.

The University didn’t respond to a request for comment about why health professional programs were exempted from the undergraduate class suspension.

Undergraduate students in medicine, nursing, and rehabilitation therapy in the FHS were given an alternative plan. All classes and assessments for these programs were moved online immediately starting on March 16, with students expected to continue their labs and clinical practice in person as scheduled.

In an interview with The Journal, Colin*, a nursing student, said that communication from the FHS was “pretty cryptic” in the days following the initial cancellation of classes on Mar. 13.

Students were told their clinical practice would continue until further notice, with daily emails providing updates on the status of their program. For nursing students, clinical involves working in a public health facility.

The School of Nursing (SON) was available to speak with students to discuss the situation. However, when Colin emailed the SON to ask about alternative protocol for clinical because he lives with someone who’s “high-risk” for the COVID-19 virus, he was told that, while students are allowed to opt out of the clinical practice at this time, he wouldn’t pass the course until he completed the required hours.

Colin said the SON couldn’t guarantee when students would be able to make the hours up, but thinks there may be an opportunity at the end of the summer or during the fall term. He acknowledged those who don’t finish their clinical now may need to complete an extra semester at Queen’s.

“There are a lot of students who aren’t prepared to pay for an additional semester or to come back [to Kingston] for the summer, whether they’re international students or from somewhere else in Canada,” Colin said. “[The message was] if you choose not to go, you won’t be directly punished, you won’t be kicked out of the program, but you may need to pay for an extra semester.”

According to Colin, nursing students have the option to do their clinical at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) or at a community placement. This week, some of the students at community placements were told not to come in by supervisors because the facilities aren’t accepting unnecessary personnel like students.

Earlier this week, Colin said he experienced hostility from staff at KGH in their own placement. Staff had recognized his Queen’s badge and asked why he was still there, as students present would just increase the risk of spreading the virus in healthcare facilities.

“I can’t even give Tylenol without supervision and approval. [KGH] really didn’t need me there,” said Megan*, another nursing student, in an interview with The Journal.

“[The SON] should’ve taken into consideration the opinions of healthcare professionals a lot earlier. Every time I went on the floor, a social worker or a nurse would ask, ‘Why is Queen’s sending you here?’”

Both students believe the SON should have immediately pulled students from their clinical settings, instead of waiting for other schools to go first.

“Toronto nursing schools shut down, then Trent, then Ottawa, then Western—we really did not have to wait this long. [The SON was] just stubborn,” Megan said.

“[The SON] needs to roll with the mental health needs of the students; it’s not good that every other student at Queen’s has gone home and the nursing students are [in Kingston] by themselves in a high-risk situation,” Colin said.

Megan echoed this sentiment, saying she was hoping to leave Kingston earlier.

“I wanted to be around my family in this time,” Megan said. “[Everyone living in my] house was leaving—I didn’t want to be alone and feel unsafe in a house by myself.”

“It [was] a trade-off between potentially infecting the people I care about and spreading the virus throughout the hospital as a non-essential member of the health care team, or having to pay for an additional semester by falling behind in my training,” Colin said.

While Megan said the suspension of clinical activities “feels like a heavy weight has been lifted off [her] shoulders,” she expressed concern about the timeline for making up lost hours. She said it remains unclear if the suspension of clinical learning activities will prevent students in their final year of the program from completing their documentation.

The FHS stated on its website that the situation will be monitored to determine when students can return to clinical settings.

“I just wish our mental health and wellbeing was a factor the SON took into consideration earlier. I don’t know what the factors were that helped them make this decision, but I’m glad they did it. I can’t wait to finally go home,” Megan said.

*Name has been changed to protect the anonymity of the student.


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