Breanna Patterson assists a client at Evergreen Seniors Home in Campbell River as part of her practicum hours in the Practical Nursing program at North Island College. Image provided

NIC practical nursing students hone skills on pandemic’s front line

‘It also has become clear that this is my thing,’ – NIC practical nursing student Breanna Patterson

North Island College (NIC)’s Practical Nursing students found themselves in a practicum experience they never could have expected when they started their program last September – being on the frontline during a global pandemic.

Students are required to complete a total of 650 hours of applied practice during their two-year nursing program and were just preparing for that practicum when COVID-19 hit.

Breanna Patterson is one of the first year Practical Nursing students who experienced the pandemic as both a student, and a health care worker.

“When the college had to deal with COVID, our instructor very quickly switched to having classes online,” said Patterson. “It was confusing at first, especially as we were supposed to be going into our practicum and we weren’t sure if we would actually be allowed to do it.”

NIC faculty were able to work with two care homes – Evergreen Seniors Home in Campbell River and Fir Park Village in Port Alberni, to ensure protocols were in place to keep students, staff and clients safe, while allowing students to be in the facilities.

“Care homes provide students with a crucial opportunity to experience client focused care, community engagement, as well as client advocacy,” said Rachel Goodliffe, NIC practical nursing instructor. “We worked with staff at Evergreen and Fir Park to ensure that this practice placement could go ahead, with safety for residents and key workers being at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

Patterson worked with two main residents as her sole focus during her practicum at Evergreen Seniors Home.

“At first it was kind of scary, as this was a situation that I’ve never really been in before,” said Patterson. “It was also a bit terrifying as I knew that the care homes had never dealt with this type of pandemic situation before. Wearing the mask all the time, new sanitization protocols, getting our temperature checked daily, and staying 6 feet away from residents as much as possible—all of these things felt so strange.”

Despite the uncertainty at the beginning, Patterson found that she and her fellow nursing students quickly became accustomed to the new procedures, especially because of the help of their instructor and the staff at Evergreen Care Home.

“I was working with two main clients who were living with dementia,” she said. “Both of the ladies I worked with needed total full care. This practicum was the first time I was responsible for total care of patients as part of that, administering medication, so it was a big challenge for me.”

Over time, Patterson and her fellow nursing students started to provide care for more patients at Evergreen.

“I was able to start helping other residents on the same floor with things like bedside care and delivering meals. It was lovely to have Jake, a RN in Evergreen that worked as our student liaison, who took our ideas into consideration. With one of my patients, for example, because I asked detailed questions about her medication, they decided to review and make a change to it.”

Goodliffe was very impressed with the opportunities for the students at Evergreen, given the high stress and uncertainty that everyone was experiencing.

“Students were able to take part in the continued care of seniors in the middle of a pandemic and experienced first-hand how staff displayed attributes such as resilience and flexibility, which are so important in nursing. The staff at these care homes welcomed the students in even though they were navigating unchartered territory,” said Goodliffe.

Patterson has now finished her practicum at Evergreen and completed her first year in the nursing program. She is looking forward to the fall term, when she will start the final year of her program.

“My sister is an RN and I’ve always looked up to her. My mom also encouraged me to do the program so that I can impact lives. I know that nursing can let me go anywhere and has so much versatility,” she said. “As I do these practicum experiences, it also has become clear that this is my thing. I made the right choice.”

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