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On-campus COVID-19 testing offers 'win-win' for both the University and its students

Two female UNF students in scrubs and face shields conducting COVID-19 testing on campus.COVID-19 testing at the University of North Florida campus not only provides students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to safely test for the virus, but provides students participating in the Chronic and Rehabilitation Nursing Practice course in the Brooks College of Health a unique opportunity to gain clinical experience.

“COVID-19 has limited the amount of time we can go into the hospital for clinicals, so this is giving me the opportunity to work with our staff, teachers and the students as well,” said Shannon Kelley, nursing student. In addition to collecting specimens, Kelley said she is leaning how to deal with patients. “Some are nervous, so we have to be really thorough about explaining things,” she said. “So we’re gaining communication skills as well as getting to learn things ourselves.”

The nursing students are working under the direction of Dr. Linda Connelly, associate clinical professor, who is teaching the nursing practice class, and Dr. Doreen Perez, COVID Health Coordinator, and adjunct professor. Perez called it a “win-win” for the University and the students. “We really couldn’t do this without the nursing students,” Perez said. “The Health Department doesn’t have the staff. So UNF is getting the healthcare professionals they need, and the nursing students are getting the clinical experience they need.”

The student workers rotate the schedule so that four to seven are available each day. Each week, they are testing about 400 to 600 people. Perez emphasized that the test is not invasive and enters only mid-way in the nose.

Safety is a top priority, and nursing students are required to wear gowns, n-95 face masks, face shields and gloves. “They have every possible personal protective equipment and they have to wear it,” Perez said. Students also handle some clerical work, such as labeling and reports, and then gather at the end of the clinic to share what they did in the clinic and what they learned. “They are learning how to care for people in a community during a pandemic, something you can’t read about in a book,” Perez said. “This is really hands-on information.”

Perez and Connelly are working together to oversee the nurses in training and fill in whenever needed. Connelly said she was concerned about the fall semester, because she anticipated not being able to take her class to clinics they would typically visit in the community. The testing, then, definitely has been a plus. “They are learning critical thinking skills. And they are talking to peers, which I think is pretty special. This is really students helping students. I tell them that we are living history. For all of us, this is the first time we have lived through a pandemic, so we are making history as we live.”