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Published: 30 September 2021

Virtual placements help student nurses finish their course

Nursing students were still able to do their clinical placements during the pandemic, thanks to a virtual alternative provided by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT).

Many trusts halted student placements during lockdown, meaning students were unable to gain the vital experience needed to complete their courses. KCHFT, however, was eager to make sure the students would not be disadvantaged and so worked closely with Canterbury Christ Church University to see what could be done.

The result was the trust was able to make virtual clinical placements available – which was so appreciated by students and tutors they decided to give an award, as thanks.

For helping find a solution, the university presented KCHFT’s Christine Beer a Faulty of Medicine Health and Social Care Dean’s Shared Purpose Award, in the external stakeholder category. Christine is a School Nurse Team Co-ordinator and Education Lead, in Dover and Deal, Shepway and Ashford.

Virtual placements within the KCHFT’s School Health Service were first offered in November 2020. As they worked so well, as second cohort completed their placements virtually too and then a third completed a mixture of virtual and face-to-face. A fourth cohort is planned for this November, with the programme able to adapt quickly, if current COVID-19 restrictions should change.

Christine said: “When we went into the first lockdown, student placements stopped, but this resulted in a problem for students and universities. I was working closely with Canterbury Christ Church and so I asked them how we could support. At the time, our service was working fully virtually.

“From those discussions, we developed a virtual programme, which gave students a really broad experience – as good, if not better than they would have had, as doing this virtually meant they were able to spend time with more of our colleagues, who all do different things.

“We gave them online sessions and this worked well for us, as one colleague could deliver to six or even 12 students, all at the same time, rather than these learning sessions being delivered one-to-one. It was less time consuming for our staff. With our second cohort, we were able to have double the amount of students we had in the first.

“We had some great feedback.”

One student who enjoyed the virtual placement was Ellie Snape, from Folkestone. She said: “When I first heard I would have to complete a virtual placement, I was sceptical as to how it would be and what I would learn from it. However, after recently completing a school nursing placement virtually, I was amazed at how well it worked.

“It was so organised and well thought out, considering the limited time to plan it. Our timetable, from start to finish, was so busy and full with individual activities, group tasks as well as different guest speakers relating directly to school nursing. This included all of the other services that school nurses may have involvement with during their normal day jobs.

“Although I would have loved to have physically gone out with the school nursing team, being able to partake in a virtual placement during the middle of a national lockdown allowed me to continue with my studies while staying safe in what were very uncertain times.

“I am very thankful to the school nursing team for organising it and allowing us to progress further into our training.”

Christine is now working with one of the trust’s quality improvement (QI) advisors to gather data and look to see how the programme could be developed and used by other services. QI is tried and tested methodology used by healthcare trusts and others worldwide. At KCHFT, it involves looking at how the trust works and seeing how things might be done better, with the trust already rates as “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).