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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Nursing professor contracts COVID-19 amid campus shutdown

Michael Iredale at Il Fornaio before the quarantine due to COVID-19 in Sacramento, California. (Malida Iredale)

Normally, a typical Friday for Michael Iredale, nursing professor at City College, would entail spending eight hours at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, overseeing 30 students as they complete their clinical requirements. Now, like most City College faculty, Iredale’s day-to-day routine is spent interacting with his students through a computer screen.

For Iredale, who teaches Advanced Medical Surgical Nursing, the transition online was particularly complicated when Iredale learned that he had contracted COVID-19 in mid-March as the Los Rios Community College district shut down all campuses. 

“I was starting to have some symptoms right around the time the campus was closing. I was really stressed out. Everybody was stressed out,” said Iredale. “I was getting headaches, and I would just run out of energy in the afternoons. Once the campus closed, I started coughing, dry cough. Then I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I have it.’ Then most of that stuff went away besides the headaches and the fatigue.” 

Still concerned about his symptoms, Iredale sought out testing and found the process to be relatively easy. 

“They have this Project Baseline in the community,” said Iredale. “It’s community-based testing that they’re doing at CalExpo that’s being run by the Department of Health. I applied online. I think the fact [of] my age—I’m 63—my symptoms, and the fact that I was a health care worker [helped]. It was a week before I got an appointment to go out and test, but I didn’t have any problems.”

Project Baseline has been in Sacramento for about a month and is now working to expand its testing to people outside the high-risk group. Two days after Iredale’s test he received his results and learned that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, much to his surprise. By that time most of his symptoms had dissipated. Iredale’s wife, who is a nurse, was able to get tested the same day she learned her husband was positive for COVID-19, though she tested negative. 

“After that I thought I was over it, but that’s when I really got more sick,” said Iredale. “I was sick for about seven or eight days after that—couldn’t do anything, didn’t have any energy, had all sorts of gastrointestinal issues.”

According to Iredale, he’s been symptom-free since April 11. But because his sickness coincided with City College’s transition to remote operations, Iredale had to work through his sickness to transfer his 12-unit course online.

  “I still had to keep working because we had all this online stuff to do. I’d get up early, like 5 in the morning, and work on it until I just ran out of energy,” said Iredale. “Some days I could go until noon, and some days it was just like 9 or 10. The worst day I had, I got up and I just couldn’t do anything.”

Iredale explained that he and the rest of the nursing department focused solely on the students’ experiences and struggles in completing classes remotely.

“The primary concern with us was for our students—students who are almost ready to graduate, and whether they would be able to,” said Iredale. “We really wanted to get focused on what we needed to do in order for our students to be able to graduate and be successful and get out into the workforce as nurses. Everybody in our department was so focused on that, all the stuff that was going on in our lives was really secondary to that.”

According to Iredale, the City College nursing department was ahead of many others in prepping for the transition online. The department started preparations in early February, strategizing what it was going to do, well before discussions about shutting down campus had begun. 

“We’re nurses, and you know nurses—especially if you’re a critical care nurse—you’re always expecting something bad is going to happen, and you’ve got to be ready for it,” said Iredale, who worked for 25 years as an ICU nurse before becoming a nursing professor. “Every nurse I know is kind of like that—you just anticipate things are going to go wrong somewhere at some point, and you’ve got to have a plan in your head with how to deal with it.”

Iredale’s Advanced Medical Surgical Nursing class entails six hours a week spent on lectures, split into four hours Tuesday and two hours Wednesday. He spends two days a week, Thursday and Friday, in the hospital with students doing clinical work for eight hours. Now that all the work is online, students are able to complete these hours whenever it is convenient for them. 

Before the campus closure, students had completed 324 hours worth of hospital experience at Mercy General Hospital, but the district stopped that clinical experience about a week before the campus closure. Students needed at least 75% of their hours of clinical completion, and they had just about reached that point, Iredale said. 

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Typically, this late in the semester, during the clinical portion, the nursing students would be working almost independently in the hospital, Iredale said. They would be responsible for a complete patient assignment—assisting patients, giving them all their medications and doing documentations.

“Really at the end towards this time, if we were in a hospital, they’d be assigned with a nurse, and the nurse would just be a resource for them,” said Iredale. “But they would actually be doing all the work that a nurse would be doing.”

Iredale described the clinical as a “semester-long job interview” because of the networking opportunities it brings for students.

“They end up getting hired, a lot of them, right out of nursing school, often times on the floor that they’ve been doing this, because they’re ready,” said Iredale. “The hospital really gets to take a good look at who our students are—and they like our students. We have a really good reputation in the community.”

Though the hospital clinical portion has ceased, students are still able to complete their coursework, Iredale said. Now nursing students use discussion forums on Canvas to ask questions and will complete their remaining clinical requirements online. The last part of the clinical requirements will be taught using a virtual simulation program called Shadow Health, which was purchased by the college using grant money, according to Iredale. The program simulations allow nursing students to talk and access a patient virtually.

“It’s almost like a game, if you’ve ever done any games with avatars,” said Iredale. “There’s a person there, and you’ve got to question them about their health before you do an assessment. You make a plan; you implement orders.”

Because the students in Iredale’s classes are senior nursing students, they are able to complete the course online to earn their units. 

“It’s very thorough—the nice thing about it is that our students already have the in-hospital clinical background from the previous semesters as well,” said Iredale. “It’s really almost a way of just refining their communication and assessment skills. It’s not just busy work; it actually contributes to who they’re going to be as nurses.”

Iredale, who is part of the college curriculum committee, said he has been impressed with the new technology teachers have discovered during this shutdown. Iredale said he and other members of the committee are discussing ways to implement the newly found resources into the future. 

Iredale’s students will finish the semester by watching lectures Iredale has recorded, and meeting once a week to catch up and ask questions over Zoom. The students’ final assessments will be based on a case study relevant to their lives.

“Their final assignment is going to be a clinical case study on some of the effects of this COVID-19 virus,” said Iredale. “We thought it was primarily a respiratory issue, but it’s turning out that it’s a lot more complex, and it affects all the different organ systems. So I’m trying to tie all that together into everything that we’ve learned and make it clinically focused.”

For Iredale, who also graduated from City College’s nursing program, teaching has allowed him to come full circle. 

“The thing I love about teaching is I go back in the hospital and I bring my students [into the hospital], and I see so many of my former students working in the different units and being successful,” said Iredale. “I really just feel humbled by that because I got to be a part of this—these people who are then helping other people. It’s a good feeling to see that.”

With reporting by Priscilla Garcia-Pargas. 

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