This university created a vaccine administration course in just two weeks –

Just before Thanksgiving weekend in 2020, Bill Rutherford was told he had to create a micro-credential course at Red River College in Winnipeg on collecting nasopharyngeal samples. Rutherford, the university’s business development manager, only had a week to get it up and running. COVID-19 case counts were rising dramatically and Manitoba was expanding its PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing capacity, which relies on trained workers placing long swabs deep into a person’s nasal passage. “It was the province recognizing that we will have to attract people from other health professions to help the nurses and front-line workers who had been doing the work,” he recalls.

The university reached its goal: the first cohort began training on October 19. Since then, at least 255 workers hired by the provincial government have completed the program. “Once we took off the nasopharynx, the province recognized other areas that would need help, so the hose was turned on,” says Rutherford. Between October 2020 and January 2021, the university created three more pandemic-related micro-credential courses for the provincial government: healthcare support, vaccine administration, and laboratory essentials for COVID-19 testing. Tight deadlines were a constant: the team had two weeks to create its vaccine administration course. But as of early June, some 3,773 students in 142 cohorts had successfully completed the micro-credential courses. All were free and the provincial government paid the bill.

Red River courses exemplify the critical role universities have played in responding to the pandemic, training people in very specific tasks for which there was a sudden and almost overwhelming demand. In just a few months, they produced armies of skilled workers in jobs that are typically provided by a small number of professionals, or through time-consuming accreditation processes, making vital services such as mass testing and vaccination clinics feasible.

Before the pandemic, experts in postsecondary institutions had been discussing ways to standardize such courses, so Rutherford and his team took that framework to use in their pandemic offerings. The micro-credential courses, he points out, allow the authorities to “be very specific and surgical in the competition in which you want to develop proficiency “.

Although the courses Red River developed are not long (the eight-hour vaccine administration program consists of five hours of theory, taught online, and three hours in skills labs), it took more than 150 people to create and run it. Rutherford’s so-called “red team” included people from nursing departments and health science medical laboratories; the university’s center for learning and program excellence (including program designers and subject matter experts); and the ranks of its staff and contracted instructors. He also called other post-secondary institutions in the province, including the University College of the North, which provided skills labs for regions where Red River did not operate.

So the mannequins were lost.

For the Health Support Workers course, students practice dressing, washing, and moving residents using specialized mannequins that replicate human anatomy. “We were doing the training at all of our regional campuses and we didn’t have enough mannequins,” says Rutherford, “So the province said, ‘Get mannequins.’ ”He bought 11 for $ 2,200 each, but only five arrived. The other six ended up in Memphis, Tennessee. Getting them across the border during a pandemic wasn’t easy, so Rutherford added a shipping expert to the red team.

Finding instructors was a long-term challenge. The same retired nurses Rutherford hoped would teach his labs were being drafted by the health care system to work on the front lines.

One of those who signed up to help out at Red River was Kelli Kingston. Although she works in the university’s health and safety services department, the registered nurse is a former instructor. “It was all very practical,” he says of his six-month stint on the vaccine administration course. Calling herself a chimera, she worked three days a week at her regular job and two in the skills labs. The pandemic added a layer of complexity. They turned two gyms into socially distant labs, with participants divided into groups of four or five, each with an instructor. The large space allowed them to train up to 28 participants at a time, and the university hosted up to six sessions per week.

Although Kingston had never taught a micro-credentialing course before, the former ER nurse enjoyed the sense of urgency and immediacy. The new courses are in line with his own vision for college, which emphasizes hands-on, hands-on learning and producing graduates who are ready for the workforce.

Although they were born out of necessity, the micro-credential courses created for the government have served as a valuable pilot project for Red River College. “The industry is knocking on our doors,” says Rutherford. Workplaces are changing rapidly and companies see micro-credentials as a way to develop not only competencies, but also trust and loyalty between workers and managers. For example, as people continue to work remotely, there is a micro-credential to manage people virtually.

But for now, there is still an urgent need for people trained to roll back COVID-19. Of the students who went through the university’s pandemic courses, more than 80 percent were in the administration of vaccines, which began in mid-December. To expand the number of regulated professions allowed to administer vaccines, Manitoba issued an order on December 9 that expanded the existing pool of nurses, paramedics, physicians, and some medical assistants; now includes physical therapists, veterinarians, students in health care programs, and retirees who are no longer registered with their professional colleges. Those hired by the province without vaccine credentials were sent to Red River, while those who were proficient in intramuscular injections were not required to take the skills lab and instead took a theoretical version only.

“It was a challenge teaching people with such varied backgrounds and levels of experience,” Kingston recalls. Many participants had to overcome the hurdle of administering an intramuscular injection. They first practiced with injection pads, which simulate human skin and tissues. Then those who were comfortable practiced on each other, using saline to mimic the vaccine. About 80 percent did those injections live, which Kingston says is highly recommended, “especially for people who have limited experience.” Taking the leap amidst the support and supervision of the course training, he explains, “helps greatly to make you feel comfortable in the real-world environment of a clinic with a client.”

Gordon Partridge started the vaccine administration course in March. Chiropractor in Winnipeg for the past three decades, he has helped pressure the government to expand its pool of professions eligible for the course to include chiropractors and optometrists, among others. “Once they put us on the list, I thought, ‘You better not be a hypocrite, you better start volunteering,’” he says.

It pushed him out of his comfort zone: he had never given a needle to anyone. But in early April, she was in a skills lab, learning about hand hygiene, the correct way to put on and take off personal protective equipment, and later preparing vaccine doses and doing injections. “Making the first needle was much simpler than I thought it was going to be,” he says. “All of a sudden I was in and out, and the person said, ‘I didn’t feel that.’ “

Partridge has put her new skills to work at the RBC Convention Center’s Vaccine Super-site in Winnipeg, where she works one or two night shifts a week in addition to her full-time chiropractor schedule. “The nature of the beast,” he says, “is that part of the protocol was changed every week” as new vaccines were introduced and processes were simplified.

Both Kingston and Partridge appreciated the variety of people who took the course and later served in the clinics. “The other day, I was working with a retired dentist and a retired nurse,” says Partridge, adding that he particularly enjoys the positive atmosphere: “From the person who cleans the chair to the person who gives you a parking pass, everyone They’re very friendly. Several people have said to me, ‘Do you have a good workout? Because they’re all so fucking nice. No, it’s just a positive place. “

In May, Kingston also began working in clinics, in communities outside of Winnipeg. (Since he had already taken an immunization course from the Canadian Pediatric Society, he did not need to graduate from his own course.) He ended up working alongside some of the students he taught in the skills labs. “It’s a lot of fun when that happens,” he says. “From the people I have spoken to, they have felt that the training course prepared them well and that they are doing well in their roles in the clinics.”

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