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CCC students prepare for health careers during COVID-19
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CCC students prepare for health careers during COVID-19

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Coconino Community College students Wes Grove and Danielle Connell spent their Saturday in their bright white uniforms, experiencing what it’s like to be a nurse and work with patients during the pandemic.

“I feel like this is the most important time for people to get into healthcare with the whole pandemic,” Connell said. “It’s the best time because we need people.”

Through a longtime partnership with Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS), CCC nursing students such as Grove and Connell have been assisting with the County’s drive-up flu clinics, which have been held every Friday and every other Saturday since early September. CCC students assist on Saturdays, while Northern Arizona University students have begun assisting on Fridays through a similar partnership.

“When COVID started last semester, there were students that were going through these programs that had zero opportunities to touch patients or be around patients and that’s intimidating and scary,” said Debbie Branson, CCHHS nurse supervisor. “To think that we’re putting them out in the workforce without any type of patient interaction is a little unsettling.”

Branson said, because of the flu clinic’s current outdoor setting in the parking lot of the County’s King Street building, the department is able to provide hands-on experiences for students with much less risk of them spreading COVID-19 or other illnesses to patients and vice-versa.

“We’re not just getting them the skill of giving shots, we’re getting them the skill of interacting with patients and getting some education. We help them do all the facets just to make sure we’re giving them the full experience. It’s wonderful because we need nurses. We’re happy to give them this opportunity to get these experiences,” Branson said.

Grove and Connell spent the day preparing, administering and recording flu vaccinations under the supervision of Branson, other CCHHS staff and Katherine Costa, CCC’s director of nursing and allied health, who said she was pleased such hands-on opportunities are still available for her students, who require 90 hours of clinical experience each semester, during the pandemic.

While first-semester students have been able to assist with vaccination clinics, more experienced students have been doing shifts at local long-term care facilities and at Flagstaff Medical Center.

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“It’s just a chance for us to be out in the community and help the community since we are a community college," Costa said. “It’s really important that we show people what they’re supporting, the programs they support.”

Grove said he had no concerns about being out in the community, helping with flu vaccinations during the pandemic.

“The setting and seeing a wide range of the community and being able to do such an important thing with them at this time, it’s great,” he said.

Nursing students have actually been able to work with even more CCHHS patients this year because of this new clinic style, which Branson said has been drawing an increased number of participants.

“We’re seeing people that love this platform of driving through, not having to get out of their cars, not having to go into a clinic, not being worried that they’re going to be exposed to other people, so they’re loving it,” Branson said. “We’ve probably immunized about three times the normal [amount] that we would in a given year at this point, so this is a wonderful outreach for us.”

The team has been able meet this increased community interest because of the new format’s efficiency. Unlike CCHHS’ weekday vaccination clinics of the past, when about 12 patients could be seen during one clinic, Branson said the team is now able to work with up to 70 patients during the same amount of time.

An hour into Saturday’s clinic, Grove and Connell had each worked with about five patients. They both have medical experience as patient care technicians, but the clinic was their first time administering vaccinations.

“This is a really good setting to learn. It’s not too high speed to where you lose focus, but it’s just a good amount where you’re getting that practice but you have time to think about what you’re doing,” Connell said.

Though CCC nursing students currently attend class in-person about once a week for labs where they can practice their skills and earn some of their required clinical hours, Grove said he preferred Saturday’s clinic.

“Skills lab is a necessary thing. Learning how to do a skill means learning how to do it in a classroom setting, but there’s no alternative to the clinical experience: being with real people, being in the community, being able to actually give them flu shots and interact with them. That’s not something you can’t get in a skills lab classroom and it’s certainly something you’re going to need to have when you become a nurse,” Grove said. “I’m grateful we’re still getting these experiences even in this time of global pandemic.”

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.

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