Pandemic-Appropriate Internships Give Practical Experience to Hard-Hit PCPS

by James Leonard | Staff Writer

SCRANTON – Students in the Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS) are gaining their hands-on experience in person this semester, despite the pandemic causing conflict for the personal-contact reliant majors.

Last semester looked a bit different for students in PCPS. Many of their courses, practicals and other ways of getting real world experience were limited to online only.

Third-year nursing student Tianna Popstein said her professors gave their best effort to ensure that students are adequately prepared to enter their respective fields after graduation last semester. Despite having to resort to a mostly digital curriculum because of COVID-19 concerns, many students are now able to do internships and practicals in person this semester.

“Coming back to school during the pandemic, I was worried about what my education would look like,” Popstein said. “They have purchased programs that allow us to interact with online patients, perform full head-to-toe assessments and create a plan of care.”

Nursing students in particular need to complete clinicals as a part of their curriculum, and this requires them to see a patient up-close to obtain vitals, temperatures and blood draws. This is particularly difficult to do virtually, but Popstein said she is still gaining the proper experience from the programs provided by the University.

“These programs allow us to interact with patients and help all of us to expand our critical thinking skills, both which are important aspects of patient care,” Popstein said. “The pandemic has definitely hindered my in-person learning experience, but I’m trying to make the best of it and learn.”

This spring semester, students in PCPS like Popstein are now going back in person more and are able to fulfill critical learning requirements for their majors.

“It is amazing to get into the clinical setting. It is just how I always pictured it. It is pretty much my own Grey’s Anatomy with the scrubs, masks, gloves and all the equipment. It’s great,” Popstein said.

While taking the necessary precautions, students are able to go back into the workplace and get valuable work experience first hand. Popstein said she is enjoying the ability to go out into her future workplace and being able to make a difference.

“This is what I thought I would have been doing as a third-year nursing student. At first, I didn’t think I would be able to,” Popstein said. “But here I am.”

Real-World Experience Finally in the Real World

Junior health administration major Michael Volpe is fulfilling one of his internship requirements at Geisinger Community Medical Center on Mulberry Street.

“I’m doing this health administration internship up the street. It’s really a great experience being able to shadow a high-up official at the hospital,” Volpe said. “I do a lot of Excel, so I am finally applying what I’ve been learning in class in real life.”

Volpe said he is learning a lot more than he expected, and looks forward to getting more experience in the field.

“I actually enjoy walking up there each day, it’s a really good experience overall,” Volpe said.

Kim Subasic, Ph.D., is the chair of the Nursing Department and said she believes nursing students are getting the proper education to be successful in the nursing field after graduation, despite the pandemic hindering in-person training for the most part.

“The understanding of nursing actions and critical thinking is the primary component of being a nurse,” Subasic said. “Due to the pandemic, many employers are aware of the need for extended orientation programs and mentorship for new graduates in all of the healthcare professions.”

Subasic said students are still able to complete lab work in person through simulation labs and other learning modules the University is offering. She also said many students will be working in person this semester, taking increased precautions.

“Our simulation labs are quite extensive and offer significant learning opportunities,” Subasic said. “Our simulation models can talk, blink their eyes, have pulses, lung sounds, heart sounds, and can be programmed to talk.”

Last semester, hospitals around the area wanted no part of student interns, according to Subasic, concerns she said are warranted. That, evidently, has changed this semester.

The Future is Looking Up… Hopefully

The Occupational Therapy program in PCPS is also doing much of their hands-on work in person this semester.

Professor Carol Coté, Ph.D., said the department has been able to get students considerable hands-on class experience this semester through clever problem-solving on the part of instructors.

“I do not believe the OT students will be unprepared for entry level clinical work,” Coté said. “It certainly isn’t one hundred percent of what we typically do, but we are working to maximize our opportunities. At this point we feel students are on track, but, truthfully, I do worry what will happen if the restrictions go on much longer.”

Coté said graduation has been delayed for some students to help them gain knowledge critical for entering the workforce. Certain types of work are impossible to complete with the COVID-19 guidelines.

“Some work, by necessity of the situation, is not being done in person,” Coté said. “For example, we were not able to have a lab addressing feeding issues and techniques because of mask requirements. We hope to be able to make up any missed work in later classes.”