Editor’s Note: The first version of this story was posted April 17.
JONESBORO- NYIT had already planned to take control of the Arkansas State University Student Health Center before the outbreak of COVID-19 and now has had to adapt to caring for students safely during a pandemic.
A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse announced in an email April 13 NYIT’s Student Health Center was fully operational.
“Like many healthcare providers across the country, the SHC is making improvements to the management of the clinic during this pandemic,” Damphousse said. “They have recently loaded a telemedicine program into their system that will allow students to have virtual visits with a physician for non-urgent needs from the comfort of their own dorm room, home or apartment.”
Although this is a new platform for NYIT, the college is not new to the idea of telemedicine.
“Telemedicine is a big deal for us,” NYIT’s Associate Director of External Relations and Marketing Casey Pearce said. “We’re one of the only medical schools in the country that incorporates Telehealth into the curriculum of our first-year students. This has been the case since we opened in 2016, not in response to the current global health crisis.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 has proven just how vital telemedicine could be in the future.
“Our leadership has long viewed telemedicine as a critical component of the future of healthcare,” Pearce said. “Their vision is being proven correct with how healthcare operations around the world are utilizing it as we combat this situation.”
Now that NYIT operates the center, the staff includes:
- Physicians who are faculty members at NYIT,
- two licensed nurses,
- and an office assistant.
“The office assistant was previously employed by A-State and transitioned to our staff,” Pearce said. “The other staff who were at the health clinic left prior to NYIT taking over. They were offered positions, but ultimately chose not to join NYIT.”
At the moment, no NYIT medical students or any medical-field related students at A-State work in the health center. However, NYIT plans to have clinical opportunities for its students and A-State nursing and health professions students in the future.
A-State students can now meet with a doctor virtually, they just need to call the center to set up an appointment with a physician.
“Students who need to be seen can call the clinic at 870-972-2054 to schedule an appointment and our office staff will provide instruction,” Pearce said. “In the event a student needs to be seen for an urgent need, they should go to a local urgent care or ER as they have previously. As this pandemic passes, the NYIT clinic will return to its normal function.”
Benefits of telemedicine go beyond keeping students and health center staff safely away from each other to limit exposure to the coronavirus and other diseases.
“Another reason we’re doing this is to limit our use of personal protective equipment (PPE),” Pearce said. “We have a very finite amount. There are concerns that our region will see a surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks and our physicians will be called up to see community patients. They will need to be protected in that event.”
Some students may notice a white tent seemingly attached to the NYIT Student Health Center, but the tent is actually in front of the St. Bernards Urgent Care facility that shares the building with the center.
Pearce said St. Bernards is screening patients for COVID-19 in the tent, but NYIT is not involved with that operation.
NYIT’s first graduating class and residencies
NYIT opened in Jonesboro in 2016 and spring 2020 marks the college’s first graduating class.
Despite the wide-ranging effects of COVID-19, NYIT’s inaugural graduating class is still set to graduate on time.
“Because of the way the fourth year medical school is constructed, our student doctors who were scheduled to graduate this spring were largely unaffected from an academic standpoint by the global health situation,” Pearce said. “Many of them had completed their clinical work by mid-March, which is about the time COVID-19 started to become an issue in our region.”
NYIT students who still had coursework to complete finished their work online.
While NYIT’s first graduating class is set to graduate on time, a formal announcement has not been made on when or where an actual ceremony will take place.
Residencies for NYIT students begin during the first week of July and as of right now, students still expect to begin their residencies on time.
“Our parent institution in New York graduated a cohort of students early (April 15), so they could enter the workforce early and help on the front lines of the pandemic there in the state of New York,” Pearce said. “Here in Arkansas, up to this point, that hasn’t been an option.”
NYIT’s advice on masks
As people around the country adhere to social distancing guidelines and attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, it has recently been recommended that members of the community wear facial masks to help the situation.
These masks can be homemade and NYIT’s dean Dr. Shane Speights, doctor of osteopathic medicine, explained how the masks can help.
“If you happen to be sick and don’t know it, wearing a facial covering can lower the risk of you spreading the virus,” Speights said. “If you come into contact with somebody who is sick and they don’t know it, their mask can protect you from receiving the virus from them.”
Speights said while hospital grade masks need to be saved for healthcare workers dealing with the virus directly on a daily basis, homemade masks will do the job for everyday people.
These masks can be made from materials like pillowcases and shirts.
While masks are an important part of defending against the coronavirus, there are still other guidelines for people to follow to make sure they are as safe as possible.
People in the local community still need to practice social distancing and good habits like hand washing or using hand sanitizer along with other guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19. A face mask is just another added layer of defense.
“Just because you’re wearing something like this doesn’t mean you can ignore the social distancing practices that we’ve been emphasizing heavily,” Speights said. “It’s just a further step that can protect yourself or someone near you.”
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