Students in field

FinnU nursing students, faculty and alumni aid in fight against COVID

April 26, 2021

Nursing student David Carlson

While most people hunkered down in their homes last spring at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Finlandia nursing faculty began looking for opportunities to get students involved in the (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“Everyone was excited to jump in and help, and that is just the role given and handed when we take this nursing career on,” said Professor of Nursing MarnieAnn Polkky

One of the bigger challenges to overcome was identifying a clinical opportunity students could perform from home since the university officially closed its doors to on-campus learning in mid-March. Fortunately for some students, Professor Mark Miron was able to come through with an opportunity through Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly

“Mark designed this questionnaire and we would call the members of Little Brothers and check on the elderly in the area and make sure they were doing alright and their needs were being met,” said now-junior nursing student David Carlson. “We filled out the survey and got the information back to the people that could help them. It was fun because some of those elderly people, they either really don’t want to talk to you, or they want nothing more than to tell you every story they know. There are some very interesting people in this area.”

Finlandia nursing students, under the direction of Dr. DeYoung, baseline tested the campus community at the beginning of the fall and spring semester.

As the spring semester ended and the summer turned to fall, another opportunity to gain clinical hours in a COVID-related field presented itself in the form of baseline testing the entire Finlandia community. Nursing students, under the supervision of Dr. Zachariah DeYoung from Upper Great Lakes Family Health Clinic, aided in the testing of over 400 people in just a few days. Their efforts identified a handful of asymptomatic cases that could have spread through the campus community if not caught. 

As the semester continued, nursing students were still given traditional clinical opportunities with patients, although there were some restrictions. 

“By the time we got back to clinicals, we knew we were going to be able to work with patients, just not COVID sick patients,” said Carlson. “It did make it challenging because, in our fall semester, we go to the NICU in Marquette and typically we get to hold some of the intensive care babies and feed them. But this year, we could only observe because of COVID. We had to stay six feet away from everything and observe and just ask questions. It was difficult because it limited some of the stuff we could do.” 

While these limitations do exist, there have also been new opportunities to hone other skills: namely patient interviewing. After a huge surge in cases in the late fall, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) contacted Finlandia and asked to mobilize the nursing students in their case interviewing efforts.

“The health department reached out in November and asked if we could get the nursing students involved and I said  ‘Yes, we sure can,’” said Polkky. 

Alumna Robin Meneguzzo, NP (’11) has been spearheading the case interviewing program.

Alumna Robin Meneguzzo, NP (‘11) who helps lead contact tracing and case investigation teams in the area created a strategy for Michigan Technological student contact tracers and Finlandia nursing students. Another Finlandia nursing alumnus and WUPHD employee, Tyler Kangas (‘19), is also helping to supervise the effort. 

“Finlandia focuses on the community because of our nursing students’ training,” said Pollky. “They can do more interviewing and when they do an actual case interview; it’s more in-depth than a contact tracing call.”

Polkky described case interviewing as a much longer survey that seeks to identify exactly how the person became infected with COVID-19. The case interviewer identifies the contacts, and then contact tracers reach out to those individuals to notify them they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Case interviewing looks at health history, background and monitors patients to ensure their condition does not worsen. 

“You’re given their case and it’s your job to figure out the whole story,” said Carlson. “Interviewing is a really important skill as a nurse. Right before this clinical, we did journals and I was like ‘Why am I going to do this? What do I want to accomplish here?’. One of the big things I wrote down was that I want to get better and more comfortable with interviewing a patient and learning their health history. That’s the biggest thing we’re doing here. ”

Students input the survey data directly into the Michigan Disease Surveillance System for the state to monitor cases in the western UP. When asked how far reaching students conduct these interviews, Polkky said they cover the entire five-county area of the WUPHD jurisdiction.

A FinnU nursing student vaccinates a fellow student at the UGL Vaccine Clinic in April.

Like with all things, the job gets easier with practice. Polkky said some students have had difficulty getting people to talk to them, but all have agreed that the second call was easier than the first. 

“I think it’s really important that we got this [clinical] because it is an overlooked part of nursing,” said Carlson. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us nursing students to hone our interviewing skills and provide meaningful care to our community that directly impacts each and every one of us.” 

While students continue to make the calls, Polkky also noted that community members may see Finlandia nursing students assisting in the vaccine rollout. 

“We feel grateful that the community has recognized the fact that we have some experience and ‘give’ that we want to give back to the community as nursing students and faculty to help make this easier,” said Polkky. 

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