How Educators Became The Forgotten Heroes Of The Covid-19 Pandemic

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Luke Sophinos

Think of the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic, and you probably think of the healthcare workers on the front lines — for example, the nurses who put their lives on the line every day to administer Covid-19 tests and vaccines, support physicians and reassure sick patients. Without a doubt, these workers are heroes, and we owe them an immeasurable debt of gratitude.

Here’s the thing, though: Many of these workers began their training just before the pandemic. For example, Christina Arriaga, a licensed vocational nurse in the emergency department of a Veterans Administration medical center near San Bernardino, California, started training as a nurse at Concorde Career College — a client of ours — in November 2019 and finished her studies in December 2020. She’s now treating patients because her teachers did their part and found creative ways, even amid the chaos of the pandemic, to train her for the challenges that lay ahead.

Meeting The Challenge

In many ways, healthcare educators are the unsung heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic. In incredibly difficult conditions, they’ve found ways to keep on teaching people the skills they need to go out and save lives.

Without these educators, we’d be in real trouble. Globally, almost three-quarters of national nursing associations report disruptions to healthcare education during the pandemic, and over half report delays in student graduation. That could leave healthcare systems short-staffed for years to come: in fact, it’s now forecast that the post-pandemic world will have 13 million fewer nurses than it needs.

In the United States, though, there’s reason to be hopeful. Like other countries, we were struggling with healthcare labor shortages before the pandemic began. However, where other education systems struggled, our medical schools and career colleges have proved incredibly resilient. Collectively, the educators at these institutions have done extraordinary work to support our healthcare system during the past year.

In fact, many healthcare campuses managed to accelerate rather than delay their students’ graduation. Institutes such as the University of Maryland, Rutgers University and Montana State University graduated hundreds of nurses ahead of schedule, providing a lifeline for underresourced clinics, ERs and ICUs all across the country. In Nevada, meanwhile, Great Basin College accelerated graduation for its class of paramedics, as did fire departments in New YorkChicago and St. Paul.

Getting Creative

How did healthcare educators achieve this? In part, by going into the pandemic with a genuine sense of mission. Seeing recent graduates on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19 inspired many colleges to step up their efforts. Some even provided direct support: Unitek Learning, another client of ours that operates campuses across the western U.S., donated about 40% of its PPE in order to keep healthcare workers safe.

Of course, colleges had to keep their own students safe, too. Social distancing and sanitation were part of the battle, but colleges also had to rapidly move classes online to comply with local rules and ensure student safety.

That wasn’t easy; it’s one thing to teach English literature online and another to teach practical nursing skills over a video call. In many cases, colleges turned to advanced technologies to train students. For example, trainee ultrasound technicians at High Desert Medical College — another client of ours — use online simulation tools to remotely practice key skills, while at Fortis College in Florida, nursing students use virtual clinical experiences to simulate the experience of diagnosing and treating patients.

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