Nursing students receive exclusive disaster preparedness training

Nursing students receive exclusive disaster preparedness training

T

he COVID-19 outbreak has dominated the world's attention since the end of January when it was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization. 

The deadly virus spread fast. It was unexpected. It was the type of widespread illness that has the ability to hit countries hard when they're caught unprepared. 

That element of being prepared is the lesson some Georgia College nursing students were able to take with them as they attended disaster emergency response training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP). 

"It's easy to be in a bubble and think things won't happen where you live--but you need to get out of that perspective," said senior nursing major Ariana Braner. "Having an opportunity to see first-hand how much the CDP and the Department of Homeland Security put into being prepared--it takes the sting out of disasters when they do strike."

Students were trained in how to safely dress and remove personal protective equipment, which have been vital in the fight against COVID-19.
Students were trained in how to safely dress and remove personal protective equipment, which have been vital in the fight against COVID-19.

The CDP in Anniston, Alabama, is the only facility of its kind in the nation that is dedicated solely to training hospital and health care professionals in disasters preparedness and response. Georgia College is one of only 13 schools in the nation that have had the opportunity to receive training from the CDP. Dr. Catherine Fowler, assistant professor of nursing, accompanied the 58 nursing students for the three-day training at the center last December. 

"It was a completely fascinating and valuable experience for our students," Fowler said, who also acted as a student and received the additional training. "They received on depth didactic and hands on training, and the students were completely engaged in the training process."

Students sat through more than 10 hours of didactic training focused on Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive materials (CBRNE) response, skills and knowledge. 

"One of the most interesting parts of the training was the fact our instructors at the center came from such diverse backgrounds.  From the military to flight medics and paramedics--we got all of their perspectives," Braner said. 

The two courses, Emergency Medical Response Awareness for CBRNE Incidents and Healthcare Emergency Response Operations for CBRNE Incidents, helped students understand the lifesaving role they could play during mass casualty disasters. 

During the last day of training, students participated in a triage scenario, where they learned how to properly dress themselves in protective suits, consisting of gloves, goggles, and a head to toe suit. If properly donned and taken off--the suit prevents further exposure and contamination.

"The triage scenario was definitely my favorite part of the day," said Mackenzie Micheletti, senior nursing major. "It looked like an ambulance bay, and we were challenged to work quickly while sirens went off in the background." 

Disasters come in all forms. It doesn't have to be a terrorist attack. It could be a bus that crashes and has mass casualties or a train derails, spilling its contents and contaminating its surroundings. We don't know what that next disaster could be.
- Mackenzie Micheletti

Students went through the scenario of providing triage, tagging and treating patients--who were represented as teddy bears, strategically placed throughout the triage zone. Micheletti said practicing how to administer what could be lifesaving nursing skills while donning the bulky protective suit was an eye-opening experience.

"Disasters come in all forms," said Micheletti. "It doesn't have to be a terrorist attack. It could be a bus that crashes and has mass causalities or a train derails, spilling its contents and contaminating its surroundings. We don't know what that next disaster could be, so that's why we were trained on several events that could unfold." 

Another act of aid the GC nursing program has implemented in the community response arena, is the institution of the Medical Reserve Corps. Fowler initiated it during the fall of 2019 allowing nursing students and faculty to place their name in a database of volunteers.

"That means, when disaster strikes in Milledgeville or a 20 to 25-mile radius--our students and faculty will be available," she said. "The bottom line is that it is vitally important to our community. This is a database of willing and training volunteers and that is invaluable." 

The nursing program is already look forward to sending the next cohort of students in April to the CDP. Following them, will be another group in the fall. Fowler hopes this will become part of the nursing curriculum, giving students one more edge in being able to better serve rural areas 

"Knowing that I want to work for a hospital, I know that they have different teams and boards along the lines of disaster relief and response," said Micheletti. "These types of groups are exactly where we can add our knowledge and training that we got at the CDP and in the nursing program. It's all about putting this planning into practice."