Nursing students participate in a number of activities that may increase risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus and transmission rates. Many of these risks are shared with teacher education students and student interns, however, nursing students also possess a set hazards that are particular to their course of study. Some of these differences include attending on-site clinicals and coming into close contact with patients and other healthcare workers. The aforementioned activities are in addition to general student risks such as shared living spaces, communal transport and crowded classrooms.
Nursing students participate in a clinical component during their education. Clinicals are where theory and skills taught in a lab are applied in actual nursing environments. These environments are often in healthcare settings where the risk of exposure to disease including the novel coronavirus is higher. Risk of infection and transmission is high due to the nature of the work setting including the frequency of maintaining close contact with patients and other healthcare workers, as well as the greater potential of coming into contact with hazardous materials. Schools often lack complete oversight. This lack of oversight could result in students unintentionally taking on greater risk and as a result greater exposure. Nursing students risk spreading the virus on campus, in their communities, at their clinical sites, and even between clinical sites. Nursing clinical sites will need confidence that students are not significantly contributing to nosocomial infection rates as this not only affects hospital health outcomes, but it also impacts staffing levels and financial burden.1
It is well documented that healthcare-associated infections are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the US.2,3,4,1 It is paramount that these risks are considered and that nursing students be given the proper training, protocols, policy and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus. This will reduce their risks of exposure and so they are able to supplement the sites already suffering staff shortages in a meaningful way.
A responsible plan for bringing nursing students back to campus, which accounts for the unique experience at clinicals and within the lab, should be a condition. Additionally, institutions of higher education should prepare to enact a plan that supports testing, isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, reduced movement between multiple clinical sites and enhanced disease surveillance. This plan should foster strong communication with clinical sites. Furthermore, there is a moral and ethical obligation for schools to protect the health and safety of students, their communities and their partner organizations.
1. Revelas, A. Healthcare – associated infections: A public health problem. Niger Med J 53, 59–64 (2012).
2. Klevens, R. M. et al. Estimating Health Care-Associated Infections and Deaths in U.S. Hospitals, 2002. Public Health Rep 122, 160–166 (2007).
3. Health Care-Associated Infections | health.gov. https://health.gov/our-work/health-care-quality/health-care-associated-infections.
4. Haque, M., Sartelli, M., McKimm, J. & Abu Bakar, M. Health care-associated infections – an overview. Infect Drug Resist 11, 2321–2333 (2018).