Six senior nursing students at Hood College are putting their education to work for their own school.
All have completed an online certification from Johns Hopkins University to conduct contact tracing for COVID-19.
When the college encounters a positive case, as they did last week, the students are deployed to make calls and connect with students, faculty and staff who may have come into contact with the virus.
Jennifer Cooper, assistant professor of nursing at Hood, teaches classes focusing on community public health. When the college was preparing for the fall semester, Cooper was asked if her students would be able to assist.
She knew this would be a prime training opportunity for her students and allowed them to count the certification toward their clinical hours for the semester.
“It shows them there’s a whole other world out there aside from hospital-based nursing or care of people that are in the hospital...it gives them a chance to have some training in something different,” Cooper said.
When a positive case is identified, Cooper said the contact tracers reach out to potentially infected people and have a script that guides them in asking the appropriate questions to obtain needed information. Those who have either tested positive or who have been exposed are asked who they were in contact with up to two days prior.
Paige Weiss Zesati, a senior nursing student, volunteered to get certified. She thought it would be an interesting initiative to be a part of, and she also wanted to help.
“As a nursing student, when it all first happened, we’re training for this but because we’re students, we kind of got sidelined, and so I felt kind of useless,” Zesati said. “This kind of eased us into some way of helping.”
To obtain the certification from Johns Hopkins, Zesati had to complete an eight-hour training course online.
She said the course not only educated her on the ins and outs of the virus but also gave her guidance on how to speak with people who are either infected or may have been exposed.
“I think [getting the virus] almost can feel kind of stigmatizing...so [the training] just really emphasizes the importance of we’re calling to make sure that you’re OK and that you have everything that you need to get through this,” Zesati said.
Being a nursing student during a pandemic is a unique experience, Cooper said, and in an odd way, she feels that it is beneficial.
“It has really highlighted nurses...that are in public health and in the community ... they are also seeing the challenges that school nurses have,” Cooper said. “It has taught them a lot. They may not realize it now, but they will.”
Zesati said the pandemic has only confirmed her desire to join the field.
“It was really moving when we were kind of in the real thick of it to see all these nurses and all these health care providers being hailed as heroes. Sometimes I think that can sound a little cliche, but it was insane to see what they were thrown into,” Zesati said. “They were adapting in real-time to a disease that we’ve never seen and are still learning new things about...it was really inspiring.”