Nursing Students Pivot to Telehealth

May 15, 2020
Screen shot of students on zoom
Top left: Sarah Bekele; Top right: Sheila Swales; Lower left: Paige Craven; Lower right: Samantha Deglaoui during a Zoom discussion of clients.

Like so many other things affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the last weeks of education for Sarah Bekele, Paige Craven, and Samantha Deglaoui were something they hadn’t bargained for.

The students, who are in the 2020 Master of Science in Nursing program, took the pivot to telehealth in stride, according to Sheila Swales, an instructor of nursing. She said the three have risen to the challenge of the radical change during their last semester, as the coronavirus has prevented them from seeing patients in person at the Ruth Sleeper Nursing Center for Clinical Education and Wellness. “Navigating the switch to telehealth has been pretty simple and straightforward. They are quick learners,” Swales said.  

During a recent Zoom-based check-in meeting, the three students, who are in the psych/mental health track, compared notes about their day’s meetings with clients and discussed treatment plans with Swales. Bekele says initially there were a few technical hiccups in working with clients who were new to Zoom, but that “once you get through it the first time, it’s easier,” she noted.
The students provide supportive counseling and psycho-education to clients referred to them from the community, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the speech-language pathology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy programs within the MGH Institute’s Sanders IMPACT Practice Center. 

Deglaoui said not being able to share the same space with a client also presents some challenges. “It’s been a little harder to read body language,” she explained. “You might miss the shaking of a leg out of anxiety and some of the other psychomotor functions we look at in psych that can provide important clues as to a person’s mental status.”

Craven identified another potential drawback of providing services in a telehealth format: not all of her clients have a private space during the stay-at-home advisory. “It makes it difficult to know if I’m hearing their full story,” she said.

But the transition to telehealth has provided some benefits, too. Craven notes that seeing a client in their own environment can be useful. “Some want to show you around the house and meet their dog. It provides an informative context to their particular situation.

Learning how to interact with clients via telehealth has also provided useful experience in a modality that appears will stay long after the pandemic departs. Bekele and Deglaoui intend to work in an outpatient setting and will likely have cause to include some telehealth services into their practice. Craven, who intends to work in an inpatient setting, might also use it to connect with specialists remotely. 

“I can see this might become the wave of the future,” Bekele said. “This is a nice practice run to prepare for that. And it increases client access to mental health resources.”

It’s that commitment to providing good support to clients, no matter the circumstances, that makes Swales especially proud of how her students have adapted. “All three students have continued to show enormous dedication and care for their clients,” she said. “Despite all of these added stressors, they have not skipped a beat in terms of compassion and commitment,” said Swales, who earned her MSN from the Institute in 2007. “They’ve been exceptional.”

-    Elaine K. Howley