Tasneem Owadally, Registered Nurse (left) instructs Marianne Austria, a fourth-year nursing student at the bedside.

Nicole Filler began a student placement on Bridgepoint Active Healthcare’s specialized Neurological Care Unit in the middle of the third wave of the pandemic. Until this point, most of Nicole’s clinical experience was virtual, as she completed the final year of her Master’s program in Occupational Therapy. She had to quickly adjust to working in an inpatient setting.

Hands-on learning in the clinical setting during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented obstacles for both learners and educators. Sinai Health professionals across health disciplines have stepped up to provide the one-on-one training students need as they prepare to begin their careers.

Mayleen Torres, an Occupational Therapist at Bridgepoint and Nicole’s preceptor, says Nicole rose to the challenge of learning in a demanding environment. “Nicole was able to experience working on an interdisciplinary team, doing assessments, treatments, follow ups and developing her clinical reasoning skills.”

Nicole says the experience was overwhelming at first, “but I was quickly oriented and my preceptor never put pressure on me to know everything right away. This allowed me to ask questions and try new skills, knowing that I had her support.”

It was also a unique opportunity to engage in team work “As an interprofessional care team, we were making adjustments on how to best provide care effectively with increasing caseloads and patients who needed more care—including patients who had recovered from COVID-19—being transferred to our unit,” says Mayleen. “Nicole saw me learning as she was learning. I was learning alongside her.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital, Tasneem Owadally, a Registered Nurse on Mount Sinai’s Medical and Cardiac Care unit demonstrated for her student how health care providers can help support each other during stressful times.

Tasneem welcomed a fourth-year nursing student in May, just as the third wave was ending. One of their first patients during the placement had COVID-19. As a preceptor, Tasneem not only ensured that her student knew the correct way to don and doff the required personal protective equipment, she also took the time to speak with her about the experience of providing care during the pandemic. “At the end of each shift we’d talk about how she was feeling. I tried to be as approachable as possible to talk not only about the skills, but about any stress or anxiety she was experiencing. I wanted her to know that it’s okay to talk about it and that other people feel the same way,” says Tasneem.

Mayleen and Tasneem both say it’s been rewarding seeing their students grow professionally and take on new challenges during an unprecedented time in health care.

A Health care professional and a health care learner looking at a power wheelchair. The health care professional is demonstrating the controls on the armrest of the wheelchair.

Mayleen Torres, Occupational Therapist (left) and Nicole Filler, an Occupational Therapy student in a rehabilitation gym at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare.

As she prepares to complete her program, Nicole’s experience at Bridgepoint has left her feeling ready to begin practicing as an Occupational Therapist. “I’m much more confident than I was at the beginning of my placement,” she says.

Thanks to the efforts of dedicated preceptors like Mayleen and Tasneem, Sinai Health has been able to ramp up the number of clinical placements to pre-pandemic levels so that learners across all disciplines can continue working towards their career goals.