There's 28 of them. Students in the last stage of their nursing bachelor courses who will start working at the four UZ Leuven intensive COVID wards the coming months. As a result of the ever-increasing number of corona patientst, there was a need for more intensive care beds. Which is why UZ Leuven has been looking for additional care providers for the COVID wards both in- and outside the hospital. The hospital has been able to rely on enthusiastic volunteers and care providers with experience that haven't been working in the hospital for some time, and also on nursing students in their final year.
The future nurses will provide clinical support on the intensive COVID wards. In a first stage they will take on the important key role between the 'infected' and 'non-infected' areas. The nursing students will be pivotal between these two areas of the wards. They will prepare medication and equipment and will play a coordinating role in how the shifts operate. They will handle all questions from the patient area. In addition they will make a first clinical interpretation of e.g. blood gas values and will assess what has priority. They will anticipate which upgrades are required, such as urgent artificial ventilation, medication to support blood pressure, resuscitation. When they have mastered this key part completely, they will also start with direct patient care. This means that they will train their clinical knowledge and skills with a thorough knowledge of he organisation of the ward via the care for COVID patients. This will obviously be done with all the necessary protective measures.
These tasks obviously require a firm nursing background. “And this is something students of the fourth training stage definitely have”, says Elly Van Bael who coordinates the project as part of her role in the Nurse Support Team. “They have already passed a study trajectory of three years, have gone through numerous practice internships, and have wide theoretical knowledge and good amount of luggage in nursing technical training.”
The students of the so-called education care teams will be supported intensively. They will get a short introduction and during their 'internship' they will be individually mentored by a nurse. Every day one-to-one tandems of students and nurse-mentors will be set up. “We have had to start this internship very quickly, but by linking students to experienced nurses they learn quickly”, says Elly. “There are 7 students per ward, making them a fixed team and guaranteeing care 24/7. Working as a tandem is crucial to be able to meet quickly changing contexts. Communicationeren, giving and getting feedback and learning from one another is tremendously importatnt for the growth process of a nurse in training.” In addition they get intensive educational support from a practice lector at the polytechnic.
Think and act
In their key role, the students have to gain insight in the priorities of the ward. “We make sure the students think pro-actively together with us about what is going on with the patients, their relatives that are not allowed to visit, the nurses and how they can anticipate better. In addition there are concrete projects where students collaborate on further developing high-quality care. For example, we want to have them work on beter protocols, procedures and stronger care organisation that could be used across various departments”, zegt Koen Balcaen, nursing director at UZ Leuven.
Lynn Caluwé, final year nursing student at UCLL: “At the ward I was working, I really was the 'intern’. If I wasn't there, things would run just as well. Now, on the intensive COVID ward, I am really making a difference. Because I'm there, more beds can be used and more patients can be treated. And the team appreciates me for this."
In total the students will be spend 11 weekd on the intensive wards. In hat time they're getting the chance to develop a wide scale of skills. The student take the learning process in their own hands and learn how to think clinically in cooperation with care providers from various disciplines. “They learn to care for patients in extremely difficult circumstances, with a strong focus on personal entrepreneurship, teamwork and communication”, according to Ingrid Moldenaers and Karen Vansteenkiste, UCLL nursing training managers at the Gasthuisberg campus. “The students support the nursing team, contribute to quality patient care in these difficult COVID times and build on their own growth as future nurses: a real win-win situation. It obviously requires a fair bit of flexibility. We are very proud of our student's versatility and resilience ̶ not just those working on the COVID wards, but all UCLL nursing students putting in extra effort for care and health institutions.”