Digital Exclusive: Gannon Health Professions & Sciences using COVID-19 to prepare for future

Digital Exclusive

As the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gannon University College of Health Professions and Sciences is using the virus to improve their respiratory therapy program.

COVID-19 exposed a shortage of health care workers across the country. The need for more ready-to-work college graduates is becoming more drastic by the day.

“[COVID-19 taught us] how much respiratory therapists are really, really needed,” said Mary Reitinger, program director of the respiratory therapy program at Gannon. “Our knowledge really goes a long way in saving patients’ lives.”

Prior to the pandemic, the industry was already short-staffed, especially with nurses. Once COVID-19 hit, the problem became worse as many health care workers suffered from burnout from extended shifts and a higher volume of patients.

Now, it’s becoming dire, as three in 10 are considering leaving the profession. Sarah Ewing, dean of Gannon’s Health Professions and Sciences program, said that’s where academia has to step in.

“We’ve placed more emphasis on our respiratory care undergraduate program that leads to a Bachelor’s Degree,” Ewing said, “because of the high demand for employment in the local area and across the U.S.

“[We have a] need for our students to be comfortable in an unknown world that changes on a daily basis.”

Ewing added they have also expanded the number of students accepted into the Nursing program due to the needs of the industry.

As far as the actual courses, Gannon has made their practices more hands-on. In response to COVID-19, students are being mentored by faculty in their scientific research, working with actual evidence, learning how to do COVID-19 tests and getting an up-close look at the variants of the virus.

“Everything that we implement and everything that we teach, before we teach it, is evidence-based,” Reitinger said. “Once we get that evidence, then we can implement it without any misperception.”

Reitinger added all of these practices are to ensure students are not only prepared to join the workforce upon graduation, but also prepare for what’s to come.

“History has proven itself. Every two to four years, we have a new disease out. A new problem. SARS started the main one. Then we went to Ebola. Now, we’re back into this COVID[-19]. So, Something else is coming down the pike. We have to stay a step ahead of it. So, the more respiratory therapists we have, the more research we can do to get that evidence base and be prepared for the next one.”

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