'Policies changed overnight:' Future nurses learn to care for COVID-19 patients at Gateway Technical College

KENOSHA -- For those who are hospitalized, COVID-19 has meant a lot of on-the-job training for those in the health care industry. The ever-changing reality of the pandemic is providing unique learning opportunities for nursing students before they head out into the real world.

In the United States, more than 90,000 people have died and thousands have been hospitalized in just a few months' span. For nursing students at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, COVID-19 has become part of their training.

The patient simulator unit at Gateway is complete with eerily realistic robotic patients and nurses.

"We are doing a patient that has ARDS, so acute respiratory distress syndrome, and we haven't had pre-briefing yet, so I kind of don't know what to expect going in yet," said Dana Barthen, Gateway nursing student.

Barthen, 32, and other third-semester nursing nursing students are facing a lot of unknowns. The former full-time social worker turned full-time nursing student said the pandemic has meant ever-changing protocols, and needing to go with the flow.

Vicki Hulback

"The one main thing I've seen a lot is coming in, and policies have changed on us overnight, so being able to go with the flow -- whether we're wearing face masks with all patients, or we're going into certain rooms wearing isolation on, if it's a rule. Outpatient, they're not necessarily positive yet," said Barthen.

"We want them to be prepared and ready to go into the workforce," said Vicki Hulback, dean of health.

As students prepared to head into clinical training, COVID-19 cases started popping up. Gateway then added training modules from the World Health Organization to better prepare the future workforce.

"So all of our students had not just COVID-19 training on how to take care of patients, but they learned about pandemic planning, and for organizations and for health care systems," said Hulback.

While nearly all classes at Gateway have shifted to online training, nurses and students in other essential career fields are still doing some in-person classes and training -- with graduation set to take place virtually on Tuesday, May 19.