PCC Nursing Students Advance during COVID-19

Innovative software allows training with actor patients

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Portland Community College’s Nursing Program has moved entirely online using innovative software that allows its students to care for actor patients in real-time. The pivot has allowed its students to continue training, graduate on time and find jobs in the critical healthcare industry.

Rather than attending clinical experiences to practice direct patient care, students engage in virtual simulation called “ATI Real Life Clinical Reasoning” scenarios, which were approved by the Oregon State Board of Nursing. These scenarios were used in the National Council of State Boards of Nursing study, which concluded that simulation can be effectively substituted for up to 50 percent of traditional clinical experience.

“This will be different learning, but it will be no less valuable,” said PCC Nursing Program Director Heather Reynolds. “Not all students get the opportunity to work with a patient experiencing chest pain, for example, so combining virtual scenarios with traditional clinical experiences may give students a breadth of experience they may not have otherwise gotten. The scenarios are really life-like and allow them to make independent decisions in a safe environment.”

In the virtual scenarios with medical actors, nursing students get to make independent decisions in key patient care scenarios, like a “Choose Your own Adventure.” They get immediate feedback on their choices and are able to go back and see what would happen if they made different choices.

This was in addition to nursing faculty developing remote classes and interactions so that students could complete spring term and graduate on time. Class content is posted online in recorded sessions where students can view asynchronously, on discussion boards, and in live virtual meetings during regularly scheduled course times.

PCC's Nursing Program is located at the Sylvania Campus. It teaches students the knowledge and skills required for an entry-level nursing job and qualify to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, which is a requirement for practice. As a result, nursing graduates have more than a 95-percent pass rate on the NCLEX exam, and 95 percent are either employed or move on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Nursing after graduation.

Even before COVID-19, there was a high demand for nurses in Oregon. With the pandemic, the need has skyrocketed.

“Graduating is really important to our students, who have been working towards this goal for many years,” Reynolds said. “In addition to the benefit to our communities, it is also a way to financial security for our students. With so many facing hardships right now, it is critical for our students to be able to finish.”

For many students, earning their nursing degree has been a long-term goal, the realization of a life-long dream, and the way to a better life. With a family to support, student Lynn King is graduating soon and is eager to join the workforce. He is thankful that PCC is supporting him to help make that happen.

“As an ‘older’ non-traditional student, surviving on a tight budget with a spouse and three young children, we didn’t have some of the resources I needed to learn remotely,” King said. “Our Director Heather Reynolds personally coordinated a solution to help my family keep going until graduation. I am truly grateful.”