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Table of Contents
SHORT REPORT
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 101-104

Students' perceptions of COVID-19 impact on experiential learning


Department of Pharmacy, Wingate University School of Pharmacy, Wingate, NC, USA

Date of Submission03-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance11-Jul-2020
Date of Web Publication6-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jamielynn C Sebaaly
Department of Pharmacy, Wingate University School of Pharmacy, Wingate, NC
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/EHP.EHP_24_20

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  Abstract 


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable effect on medical education, particularly experiential education. Our institution conducted a brief, anonymous survey of nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, and physician assistant students engaged in experiential education during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to assess diverse student health professionals' perceptions of the pandemic. Based on the survey results, COVID-19 had a significant impact on students, including concerns for mental health and the quality of experiential education. The majority of students considered themselves to be essential workers, citing their need to learn, and a professional responsibility to serve; others expressed concerns of exposure risk to COVID-19 and use of personal protective equipment when supplies may be limited. Students requested increased communication, transparency, and financial support during the hardship of COVID-19. Educators and administrators should strive to address these concerns at their respective institutions, through dedicated resources to communication, mental health, and financial aid.

Keywords: COVID-19, experiential education, student perceptions


How to cite this article:
Sebaaly JC, Brennan L, Wilson J, Meade L, Haltom W, Nisly SA. Students' perceptions of COVID-19 impact on experiential learning. Educ Health Prof 2020;3:101-4

How to cite this URL:
Sebaaly JC, Brennan L, Wilson J, Meade L, Haltom W, Nisly SA. Students' perceptions of COVID-19 impact on experiential learning. Educ Health Prof [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Dec 4];3:101-4. Available from: https://www.ehpjournal.com/text.asp?2020/3/3/101/300074




  Introduction Top


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable effect on medical education, particularly experiential education. As the pandemic is ongoing, institutions are still assessing the aftermath of its impact. A recent survey assessed the perspectives of medical student and trainee responses to the pandemic.[1] This survey found a number of themes including students' willingness to serve while also not wanting to pose a risk to themselves or others. Other noted themes included concerns of personal protective equipment (PPE) constraints, delivery of quality of care, and balancing mixed emotions during this time.[1] Another survey was conducted in pharmacy students to gather data about the impact of COVID-19 on their educational experiences.[2] Students in this survey described feeling anxious and worried about COVID-19, moving to remote learning, and their future in the profession.[2] The authors recommend a student-centered and holistic approach to learning that considers financial, physical, and emotional health.[2] Surveys of this nature can assist institutions in planning for future educational experiences and assessing students' concerns and needs at a time of unprecedented uncertainty. To the best of our knowledge, no surveys on the impact of COVID-19 have been conducted encompassing students from multiple health professions.


  Methods Top


As there is minimal information on this topic, our institution conducted an institutional review board-approved, brief, anonymous survey of nursing, occupational therapy (OT), pharmacy, physical therapy (PT), and physician assistant (PA) students engaged in experiential education during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to assess diverse student health professionals' perceptions of the pandemic. As different health professions use different terms for experiential learning, students were instructed that when taking the survey, the phrase “experiential learning” is meant to include all clinicals, rotations, clinical rotations, fieldwork, etc. The primary focus of the survey was the impact of the pandemic on health professional students' perceptions related to experiential education [Table 1]. The survey was sent on May 18, 2020, and closed on May 27, 2020. A brief thematic analysis was conducted for each question by the primary author. The thematic analysis was then discussed during a group session with all authors to assure consensus and reliability.
Table 1: Survey questions

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  Results Top


We received 64 responses (nursing = 3, OT = 8, PA = 18, pharmacy = 29, and PT = 6), and 87% of the respondents stated that their experiential learning was directly impacted (e.g., changed to remote work and shortened required experiential hours). The themes seen in our survey responses are described below.

Thirty-eight students provided comments when asked how changes due to COVID-19 had affected them and how they were responding. The main focus of the comments was on the loss of hands-on experience/fieldwork and the transition to computer-based remote learning, stating their education was perceived as compromised or not as effective, and the learning was less engaging so harder to focus. Students also expressed a concern for how this loss of learning affected their overall preparedness for practice, along with anxiety of how this would affect their graduation and future job prospects. One student commented they were now questioning “governing bodies in this field,” while another said they gained trust in their program. Mental health seemed to be negatively impacted with the words “depression,” “stress,” “upset,” and “overwhelmed” occurring regularly. However, several students showed resiliency and said they were able to learn other skills by the adaptations in their learning; these students also mentioned the ability to focus on other aspects of life, and they responded with flexibility. One student even commented that it helped them financially, as they were able to work more. In summary, more negative comments than positive were given in regard to the effect of COVID-19, although some students did find benefit.

To the question of whether their health profession's learners should be considered essential workers, a majority of students responded in the affirmative. In fact, almost two-thirds of respondents were in agreement with being considered essential (64% yes vs. 36% no). When asked to provide additional commentary regarding their yes/no choice, their thoughts fell into a number of categories upon review; these have been divided into “essential-aligned” and “nonessential-aligned” themes [Table 2] to highlight those who felt health professional students should be considered essential workers and those who did not. Seven distinct themes emerged, with some singular responses best suited to be filed under “other.” The main themes among the essential-aligned responses indicated that students feel there is still a need for their profession's services, and continuing on with their experiential education is a valuable learning experience that will help them in their future careers. The main concern expressed was the risk of exposure and use of PPE by students did not outweigh the benefit of experiential work due to limitations in students' abilities and services.
Table 2: Themes from responses to “should health professional students in your health profession be considered “essential workers”?”

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To provide more context to the “other” moniker, one response alluded to the question of essential not necessarily being an “all or nothing” consideration. The student commented that it would depend on the setting (with more acute or emergent settings being more essential). One student, who responded “no” to the question of whether learners are essential, mentioned the risk to family members and children of the learner's household. Another response focused on the fact that health care is a business, and that students are not essential to businesses running. The final comment in the “other” category simply stated that, at this time, “we are still students.”

In regard to preparedness, slightly more students felt they were less prepared (45.3%) by their altered experience during the pandemic than felt they were just as prepared as they would have been (42.2%). Unexpectedly, 12.5% of the respondents felt that they were more prepared. Some of the comments indicated that they felt they had learned different skills than they would have otherwise, such as becoming more proficient at using the electronic medical record.

When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the students' perceptions of their respective professions, about 55% indicated positively, 30% indicated neither positively or negatively, and 15% indicated both positively and negatively. No student indicated that the pandemic had only a negative impact on perceptions of their profession. When asked to provide additional information regarding the impact on perceptions, many respondents mentioned the need for flexibility and adaptability within the various professions while still providing quality care including the shift to telehealth where appropriate. There were also several comments related to the importance and essentialness of their respective professions given the gravity of the situation. Students commented on the need for the various professions to provide care for other acute and chronic conditions, in addition to COVID-19 specifically. While many students mentioned importance in a positive manner, there were several that stated disappointment in the public perceptions related to the essentialness of their respective profession.

The majority of learners (75%) do not plan to do anything differently in their practice setting after graduation based on their experience with COVID-19. However, some learners plan to enhance procedures to protect themselves, employees, and patients, including emphasizing hand hygiene and increased cleaning and disinfecting. Other responses included planning to stay flexible and adaptable and diversifying sources of income by working in different practice settings.

Some students felt the university responded well, while others noted the need for increased communication from the university during the pandemic. One student felt COVID had fostered a more personal relationship between students and faculty. The use of class representatives and student senate was suggested to increase or enhance communication.

Costs were noted as a concern when the experiential learning was modified, and students did not receive the same hands-on experience. One suggestion included providing videos of client interviews or evaluations to demonstrate what experiences would look like since students could no longer personally experience them.


  Conclusions Top


Based on the survey results, COVID-19 had a significant impact on students enrolled in health profession programs at our institution. Overarching themes included concerns for students' mental health and the quality of their experiential education.

Students' perceptions on their preparedness for experiential learning or practice were primarily worsened or neutral; however, perceptions of their professions were primarily impacted positively. The majority of students considered themselves to be essential workers, citing their need to learn, and a professional responsibility to serve. The main concerns about experiential learning included concerns of exposure risk to COVID-19 for themselves and others and their use of PPE when supplies may be limited. Several students brought up concerns of “fairness” in regard to the risk of COVID-19 as learners paying for an education rather than employed workers being compensated for the risk they are taking. In addition, nearly half of the respondents felt less prepared for experiential learning or practice in their profession. As the pandemic continues, these are areas that educators and administrators should be aware of and take care to address to ease students' concerns.

Finally, students requested increased communication, transparency, and financial support during the hardship of COVID-19. Educators and administrators should strive to address these concerns with students at their respective institutions. This can be done through dedicated resources to communication, mental health, and financial aid concerns.

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank Christy Inge, Pharmacy Practice Experience Coordinator, for her support.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Gallagher TH, Schleyer AM. “We Signed Up for This!” – Student and trainee responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic. N Engl J Med 2020;382:e96.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Fulford MJ, Lebovitz L, Ray ME, Wallace JK, Henson B, Smith KM. “PharmD Students Cope with Transitions in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Pharmacy Times; 2020. Available from: https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/pharmd-students-cope-with-transitions-in-the-wake-of-the-covid-19-pandemic. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 10].  Back to cited text no. 2
    



 
 
    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2]



 

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