Cuesta nursing students on track to graduate despite pandemic


Second year students in Cuesta College’s registered nursing (RN) program are just nine days of clinical experience away from graduating. Director of Nursing Marcia Scott said she’s determined to get them there on schedule by May 22.

After COVID-19 initially shuttered their classrooms and kept them out of hospitals, Cuesta nursing students are now poised to rejoin the health care arena. When they return from their spring break on April 13, second year students will start shifts at local hospitals, while both first and second year students will help staff an overflow COVID-19 care site in the Cal Poly Rec Center.
JOINING THE FIGHT Cuesta College nursing students will help staff this alternative care hospital set up by San Luis Obispo County in the Cal Poly Rec Center. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • JOINING THE FIGHT Cuesta College nursing students will help staff this alternative care hospital set up by San Luis Obispo County in the Cal Poly Rec Center.

Both direct care experiences will count as credits toward their graduation, at a time when many nursing programs in the U.S. have been completely derailed by the coronavirus.

“We’re very determined,” Scott said. “We’re very fortunate to live in a supportive community where there might be some obstacles in our way but everybody’s willing to put our heads together and figure out how to find clinical placements for these nursing students.”

Cuesta nursing students will not be participating in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Health Corps, a reserve force of health care workers created to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19. Because Cuesta students still have the chance to complete their RN degrees on schedule, they’re coordinating their shifts through the college and local hospitals as usual, Scott said.

More than 100 students are currently enrolled in Cuesta’s RN and Licensed Vocational Nursing programs. About 40 are second year RNs who are gearing up to work in a traditional hospital setting next week.

“We’re going in gingerly at first because we need to see how the surge affects the hospitals,” Scott said.

When COVID-19 hit SLO County in early March, local hospitals stopped allowing Cuesta students to work in their facilities, in part due to concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“They didn’t know what the demand for the PPE was going to be,” Scott explained. “That was one of the critical reasons why hospitals didn’t want us in there.”

But with SLO County reporting only three hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of April 7, that decision was revisited. Still, Scott said the situation remains tenuous for her program.

“A lot of it depends,” she said. “So far we don’t have any real surge in patients, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Since the COVID-19 outbreak closed its campus, Cuesta’s nursing curriculum has moved online. Through Zoom, faculty and students have worked through various scenarios and case studies that they would normally see in a live hospital. Those case studies now include COVID-19 patients, and faculty have placed an extra emphasis on the proper use of PPE.

As the nursing program enters an uncertain few months, Scott said her students are generally feeling nervous but ready to get to work.

"They’re all scared, as every nurse is,” Scott said. “But I also feel that the majority of them feel a strong calling, that they got into nursing to care for people. They want to get out into the health care setting where they can help patients.” ∆

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