School of Nursing suspends in-person clinical experiences

Laura Morales

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

The School of Nursing suspended in-person clinical experiences for undergraduate students and graduate nursing students through the rest of the spring semester.

In clinical experiences, or clinicals, nursing students complete a certain number of hours in a hospital or clinic where they tend to patients and are supervised by on-site licensed nurses. Clinicals are part of the requirement for some skills classes and are required to fulfill capstone hours.

Alexa Stuifbergen, School of Nursing dean, said in an email to students that the decision was made because of the increase in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of protective equipment. Students will participate in online alternative activities and simulations and assist in telehealth screenings and contact tracing to aid in the public response to the epidemic.

“The preferred experience is always direct human-to-human experience,” Stuifbergen said. “We have been working for several weeks to prepare for this. We imagined it would be coming, and we have already purchased some excellent software to help us do virtual simulations. The students will get a lot of exposure to hypothetical situations and respond to them.”

The nursing school advised students in their second sophomore semester (Sophomore II) through their first senior semester (Senior I) in the school to leave campus. Clinicals under the advanced practice programs will continue if the student and faculty member determine adequate protective measures are in place. Second-semester seniors (Senior II) and Alternate Entry foundation-year students will have in-person clinical assignments with no patient contact.

“It is less about the specific number of hours and more about, ‘Are they able to acquire the competencies that they need?’” Stuifbergen said. “They are in pretty good shape to finish out the semester, and the faculty are working on a variety of activities that will allow them to finish up their courses.”

If a professor determines the requirements of a course cannot be met by the end of the semester, students will receive an “incomplete” in the course. On Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott waived certain regulations on nursing students, permitting graduate nurses who have not taken a licensing exam yet to practice and increasing the limit of clinical simulation hours for students in the last year of their program.

“This extension of the temporary permits to practice is a great change to allow us to get more qualified graduate nurses into the workforce,” Stuifbergen said.

The School of Nursing will hold a town hall meeting through Zoom on Wednesday, March 25, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. for students to ask questions about the recent changes. Students will be sent a Zoom invite through email.