Jonah Gonce at Piedmont Technical College

It's What They're Trained to Do: Nursing Program Adapts to Online Environment

April 21, 2020

Only this spring’s nursing graduates can say they received training during a historic global pandemic. Halfway through the semester, they learned firsthand how authorities approach public health policy on a widespread scale by instituting social distancing guidelines and other measures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19. Piedmont Technical College (PTC) expects to graduate 43 nursing students in May. On March 20, all nursing courses transitioned to online-only instruction in mid-semester. Fortunately, most students had completed the clinical portion of their training, so the switch did not interfere with their graduation plans.

“For those who may have had some clinical component remaining, the Board of Nursing allowed virtual simulations to fill gaps,” PTC Nursing Department Head and Instructor Miranda Gaillard said. “Affected students have to demonstrate that they are competent in certain skills, so allowing virtual simulation for remaining clinicals has been helpful.”

PTC Health Care Dean Tara Gonce noted that the successful transition took a monumental effort of coordination and cooperation.

“In the Health Care Division, we were dealing with about 10 different accrediting bodies, all of which have different sets of guidelines, rules and regulations,” she explained. “I am amazed and so appreciative of all the faculty and program directors who contacted those entities and secured their cooperation with our change in format in a very short period of time.”

“We truly are one health care division,” Gaillard said. “It really does take the entire team to make this work.”

Student Jonah Gonce, who is graduating in May, took it all in stride.

During the transition, he observed: “Being in nursing means you pretty much experience something different every day. You have to learn to adapt very quickly. I could tell our leaders were all nurses because they jumped in and adapted very quickly. It was a seamless as it could be. Our instructors have done a great job of being there for us.”

In addition to providing near-constant support for students adjusting to the changes, Tara Gonce and her faculty simultaneously assessed how they could help hospitals before they experience the anticipated COVID-19 equipment shortages that had been reported in other parts of the country.

“Four of our classroom ventilators went to Self Regional Healthcare,” she said. “Prisma Health received our isolation equipment and PPE, including gowns, masks and gloves. We’ve also taken a count of our lab beds in case any local hospitals need to use them.”

A beloved tradition for every graduating nurse is the Pinning Ceremony, which takes place usually in close proximity with the PTC full graduation, previously scheduled for the first week of May. Just as graduation has been postponed, this semester’s pinning ceremony also has been postponed. Students will be contacted when a new date has been scheduled.

“We don’t ever want to cancel the pinning. Tara and I are committed to it. We still want to celebrate our graduates,” Gaillard said. “It’s very specific to our profession and is a little more personalized than graduation. They are able to have their whole families present.”

“Pinning is a critical formality of completing the program,” Tara Gonce said. “We have talked to the class and told them that as soon as we can possibly get students back on campus, we will do that for them. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Studying from home gave Jonah Gonce an opportunity for reflection.

“Just a couple of months ago, we were sitting in class. We hadn’t heard much about COVID-19,” he said. “All of the sudden, it has taken over everything that we know that is normal. It has changed everything.”

Summer classes are on track to begin May 13 and will be hybrid in nature, combining classroom instruction (when it is safe to do so) and online instruction. For more information about nursing at PTC, visit www.ptc.edu/nursing.