How COVID-19 is Affecting Hardin-Simmons University’s PA Program

Moving Quickly from On-Site Rotations to Online Learning

May 6, 2020

By Barbara Quillin, MPAS, PA-C

Barbara QuillinI’ve been working in PA education for eight years and, during that time, have held multiple positions. I’m currently the director of clinical education and an assistant professor at Hardin-Simmons University PA Program in Abilene, Texas. My favorite part of being a faculty member is having an impact on the future generations of PAs.

Before COVID-19, our PA program did offer three remote classes – two in the didactic year and one in the clinical year. We also use Kaplan’s i-Human application for our problem-based learning small group activities in our clinical medicine didactic courses, but the great majority of our PA program was conducted in person.

Sweeping changes
We started anticipating the need for sweeping changes to the semester about two weeks before any announcements were made. Dr. Jennifer Eames, the PA Program director, and I discussed all options and made decisions together.

We found out that the university was cancelling in-person classes during our didactic year’s spring break. For our students on rotations, we had end-of-rotation activities online. Some of our students were scheduled for end-of-rotation exams and needed to take in-person exams. We scheduled individual rooms (four total) from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. so that our students could complete their exams safely. We had one student and a proctor more than 6 feet apart literally all day.

[COVID-19 and PA Students: How the Pandemic Affected Me]

Once it was time for the next rotation to start, some students didn’t have a rotation site to go to since several clinics and hospitals had canceled student rotations. Luckily, the way our program is designed, our graduating students return to campus in the fall semester to take face-to-face courses, prior to graduation, to prepare them for their professional life. We have been able to move two of those Fall courses up to the Spring and Summer semesters, so students are earning credits, even though they aren’t on rotations. The courses are our Capstone class and Health Policy/Billing and Coding. Both of these were converted to online courses. We are almost halfway through and it seems to be going well. For the next rotation, some students will be on the clinical rotation that we call “Professional Development.” This is the established, clinical year course that is our remote-learning course, so students can participate from anywhere. We hope that rotations can resume in the fall, or graduation dates may need to be altered.

Using technology
We had a lot of technology in place already. We use Kaplan i-Human for our clinical medicine course. Our IT department worked quickly to get access to the Zoom platform and incorporated it into our LMS. Our didactic lectures are recorded so that students have access to them after class. Our clinical year didn’t have any specific online teaching related to rotations, but we recently received free access to an online clinical case database called Aquifer. This company is giving free access to all North American medical and PA programs until the end of June. We are also using AAPA’s digital lectures in our health policy class, specifically the billing and coding portion. Having access to on-demand lectures allowed me additional time to focus on other things!

[Learn about AAPA’s Digital Presentations]

We are all adjusting to the new way of doing things, but the students have been grateful that we were able to respond to change quickly and that we were familiar with technology. I’m happy to report we haven’t had any major malfunctions! My biggest takeaway is that our program leadership, staff, and faculty can work together to overcome unexpected obstacles. My advice for other PA programs and PA students is to work smarter, not harder. Be flexible and try to think outside of the box. We all have one goal: to graduate competent PAs. If we work together, we’ll accomplish it!

Barbara J. Quillin, MPAS, PA-C, is the director of clinical education and an assistant professor at the Hardin-Simmons University PA Program in Abilene, Texas. She can be reached at [email protected].

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