NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Starting Thursday, many LSU School of Nursing seniors will be back in a hospital for the first time since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak. It's real-world coursework school leaders say-- when available-- is required to graduate. Yet, it was the last thing some students expected after clinicals were recently moved to the computer.
"We run to the front line and that's what I'll be doing," said Dr. Todd Tartavoulle.
The Program Director of LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing says he'll work alongside his students the next several days as they return to clinical rotations in the hospital. They were all pulled at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing seniors to meet the necessary requirements to graduate through virtual simulations.
"What's changed is we have an opportunity. So, virtual simulation, while it's great, it never can replace human touch. Caring for a true human patient," Tartavoulle said. "As far as therapeutic communication, eye contact, empathy, those are the things you can't learn via computer."
Tartavoulle says West Jefferson Medical Center requested students and faculty come in to care for a backlog of patients.
"They currently have around 25 to 30 patients that are sitting in the emergency department with nowhere to go because they don't have the nursing staff to take care of these patients on the floor," said Tartavoulle.
Tartavoulle tells FOX 8 the seniors will be on a COVID-free unit. With now ample PPE for students, he says the risk of catching the virus is minimized.
"We are an academic health science center, we cannot stop doing what we're supposed to do, shut the school down. We need to produce nurses to get out into the healthcare workforce, as you can see, which is why we have to go to West Jeff because they don't have enough nurses. So, we're going there to help them," Tartavoulle explained.
“Very concerning that the we are being put on the front lines,” said a student.
This senior, with only a few more clinical shifts to complete, asked to remain anonymous.
"To avoid any kind of retaliation or anything that might jeopardize my graduation in the coming months," the student said.
The student questions whether the nursing school class’ safety is being prioritized. Accreditation-wise, the senior does not understand why virtual simulations were offered as an adequate alternative, but in-person clinicals are now required to graduate.
"To take that back and say that's not even an option, no matter your circumstances, really reflects they're not so interested in us getting our clinical hours as promised, but they're trying to find away to make us feel like we have to join this pandemic, even if it risks our own safety and well-being," explained the student.
With a nationwide PPE shortage, this student believes it should be reserved for those already on the front lines.
"Instead of putting students, hundreds of students, in the hospital and taking away that resource from healthcare workers who are actually skilled and know how to work in this kind of environment," said the graduating senior.
The senior fears, with less experience, there's an equal or greater chance of becoming another COVID-positive patient.
"To place this burden on students is, to me, irresponsible," the student said.
The program director says the school will help students, who don’t feel comfortable or are unable to return, to make up their work at a later time. Unlike most clinicals, participants will be paid.