UNC Greensboro nursing students had their temperatures checked and their breathing monitored as they mimicked movements that they might do while working in a hospital.
They took a seat and bent down as if they were grabbing an object off the floor. They also breathed regularly with long tubes running from the N95 face masks they wore to two quantitative fit testing machines.
Three UNCG School of Nursing faculty and staff members started fit testing their students for N95 face masks a few days before Thanksgiving. The group has continued to work to get more than 600 undergraduate and graduate nursing students prepared for their clinical rotations during the Spring 2021 semester.
None of it would’ve been possible if not for a new collaboration between the School of Nursing and the University’s Environmental Health and Safety office. The two units have worked as a team, sharing ideas and expensive equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Environmental Health and Safety office has helped the School of Nursing acquire boxes of non-latex gloves and around 3,000 N95 face masks. That includes four face masks for each of the more than 200 students in the bachelor of science in nursing prelicensure program.
“We probably email them every day about what we need, but they also come when we call them,” said Dr. Lynne Lewallen, the School of Nursing’s associate dean for academic affairs. “They’re just so responsive. I mean I know they’ve got a million other things they’re doing.”
The School of Nursing has traditionally never had a reason to be in constant contact with the Environmental Health and Safety office. However, that changed in November as the number of coronavirus cases in North Carolina surged.
At least one regional health care facility decided that nursing students had to be fully protected during their clinicals around patients. Students couldn’t simply wear surgical masks and were now required to wear N95 face masks, which have become costly and more difficult to acquire during the pandemic.
At first, Tim Slone, director of Environmental Health and Safety, offered to fit test all UNCG nursing students for N95 face masks. After all, his office already fit tests employees around campus for face masks.
Slone said he then realized the scope. Hundreds of students in nearly every program and concentration in the School of Nursing needed to be fitted for face masks. It was more than he and his staff could handle.
Slone came up with a solution. He’d train Lewallen, Dr. Audrey Snyder, the School of Nursing’s associate dean for experiential learning, and health educator Melissa Poillot-Micca on how to fit test students using the quantitative fit testing machines.
Lewallen, Snyder, and Poillot-Micca have coordinated the School of Nursing’s coronavirus response since this past summer.
“Environmental Health and Safety, a lot of times we’re code enforcers. We’re working with employees. We’re not a direct tie to student outcomes and graduating students,” Slone said. “We’re more of a support organization, and this gave us the opportunity to directly influence our students’ successful transition and graduation from the University by completing these practicums.
“It has been an opportunity to serve and have a direct positive outcome on a program and one of our more marquee programs on campus, so that’s been the kind of thing keeping me going right now.”
With help from the Environmental Health and Safety office, the School of Nursing has been able to acquire large shipments of N95 face masks, including several varieties of them.
The Environmental Health and Safety office has also provided personal protective equipment devices to ensure Lewallen, Snyder, and Poillot-Micca are safe while conducting fit testing, which requires prolonged close contact with a large number of students.
The School of Nursing isn’t the only unit on campus benefitting from its new partnership with the Environmental Health and Safety office.
Speech-Language Pathology students in UNCG’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders also needed to be mask fit tested for their clinicals, so the nursing faculty helped by getting them fitted as well.
“The students don’t have to go anywhere but to school, so we can just do it right here,” Snyder said. “And we’ll see how this works out for us in the future going forward because probably what we’ll do is once students enter the nursing program, we’ll mask fit test them.”
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications