In The News | TRCC educating future RNs during pandemic

Norwich, CT (The Day, May 28, 2021) —Prior to March 2020 there was already a national nursing shortage, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the situation became worse due to retirements and the decision of some nurses to stay home with their families, among various other reasons.

Nurses bravely and stoically administered care and compassion during the pandemic while working tirelessly for those in their care.

And now there is hope for reducing the RN shortage here due to the creative strategies implemented by the nursing faculty at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich. On May 14 at Three Rivers Community College’s 57th Pinning Ceremony (first in-person pinning ceremony since the pandemic began), 33 students graduated at at Dodd Stadium; in total, the program has graduated 81 students since the pandemic began.

Corinne Eichelberg, a former TRCC nursing student and current nurse at Backus Hospital, explains, “TRCC has a very challenging nursing program. When I was enrolled, it involved two full eight-hour class days and two full eight- to 10-hour clinical shifts in a local medical facility each week.”

She continued, “TRCC had a very high rate of success for passing the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) and was known in the region, by word of mouth, to be a very good program.”

In March 2020, when the world experienced quarantine restrictions, so did the nursing students across Connecticut. Three Rivers Community College nursing faculty and students quickly transitioned to remote learning.

Dr. Edith Ouellet, director of nursing and allied health at Three Rivers, states, “The real challenge included clinical education. While the COVID cases were climbing and clinical facilities needed to conserve PPE, restricting nursing students was necessary.”

Nursing faculty at TRCC surveyed and assessed several virtual programs that offered clinical and critical thinking teaching scenarios. The faculty selected the most robust programs, and the TRC Foundation funded the cost to purchase these programs for all students.

Nursing student Kelsey Wilson states, “From Day 1 we were told to be flexible and prepare for the ever-changing circumstances as we navigated pursuing a nursing degree in a pandemic.”

By fall 2020, the TRCC nursing program staff hoped to return to the clinical settings, which includes Hartford HealthCare’s Backus, Windham, and Natchaug hospitals, Yale New Haven’s L+M and Westerly hospitals, Day Kimball Hospital, and other clinical facilities.

With the inclusion of many safety guidelines, screening processes, COVID testing, and an increase in availability of masks and gloves, the TRCC nursing program was invited back to resume clinical education in person.

Classroom learning remained remote while the nursing simulation laboratory was open and available to the nursing faculty and students.

Ouellet states, “We paid close attention to COVID screening, exposures and positive cases, and quarantined as per the CDC guidelines.”

Wilson added, “I think I can speak for my class when I say, we have all learned to be flexible. Adapting and overcoming has been instilled in us.

“I am confident that the trials we have faced amid the pandemic, in both an academic and clinical setting, will allow us to be strong and resilient nurses in the field.”

By October, the COVID case rate began to climb again as did hospitalizations.

“Nursing students were asked to return to simulation and virtual clinical learning,” Ouellet said. “This day-by-day schedule required an incredible amount of flexibility by the student and the faculty. Policies changed and we adapted.”

The spring 2021 semester has offered hope and many opportunities for the TRCC nursing program to participate in in-person clinical education. They have been able to bring students to the clinical setting and also participate in COVID vaccination efforts with the Uncas Health District and Day Kimball Hospital.

Nursing student Brittany Turner remarked, “These last couple semesters have been hectic for me. I lost my father due to COVID-19 one month before beginning the program and this was extremely hard for me. I have a 7-year-old son who I also had to home school while also trying to focus on nursing school so many days were very overwhelming….”

Online learning, she added, had its pros and cons.

“There is nothing like being hands-on and learning the practical way,” she said. “My first semester did not allow for as many in-person clinical days with actual patients, but the school did what they could to accommodate our learning.”

For Cassandra Reyes, a May TRCC nursing graduate who was in her second semester when the pandemic hit, the health crisis was a terrifying experience at first.

“At first, I even questioned if I was brave enough to be the next front-line worker, an ‘essential superhero,’ trying to save lives amid a modern-day plague,” she said. “I thought ‘superheroes are supposed to be fearless,’ and I said to myself ‘I’m so scared, how could I ever do this?’ In spite of the fear, stress, and ‘new normal’, all of us nursing students kept pushing.”

Reyes continued, “I finally realized that true bravery is not being fearless, it is taking action in the face of fear, deciding to overcome never before seen obstacles to be successful nurses.”

May 2021 marks three semesters of teaching nursing students through a global pandemic.

Nursing student Wilson states, “Edith Ouelett and faculty, in collaboration with the college, have gone above and beyond to keep the program running safely and successfully during the pandemic. On behalf of myself and my class, I want to say thank you for making it all possible for us to earn our nursing education.” 


— By Aidan Schuler, member of the Times’ Young Journalists Initiative

The original article can be found here: “TRCC educating future RNs during pandemic

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