Since the outbreak of coronavirus, people across the globe have watched with bated breath as day-to-day updates turned to hour-by-hour updates and then quickly accelerated to minute-by-minute updates. As case numbers rise, medical workers across disciplines are positioned on the front line, responsible for responding to and treating patients with often limited resources and tools. The training function has moved to the front line alongside them to train and prepare clinicians and caregivers for the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic.

In response to COVID-19, learning and development (L&D) organizations and teams across industries must rise to the occasion to ensure the safety of medical workers and patients alike. “Safety is an individual and team sport,” says David Versaw, CFO of WILL Interactive, “and we need to train people this way. Excellent training programs not only give information on how to be in compliance with the correct procedures, but they also focus on working together and maintaining vigilance to ensure that all medical professionals and their patients are safe in times like these.”

From rapidly developing programs rolled out in a week’s time to repurposing content already stored in their learning libraries, training organizations and leaders are answering the call to instill competencies, consistency and confidence in medical workers and facilities to effectively provide care and combat the pandemic.

Competency

Training professionals are tasked with giving medical workers the competencies they need to care for and protect patients — fast. Competency-building is a challenge in typical training environments, but in today’s climate, these challenges are heightened by the immediacy and timeliness in which medical staff need to learn these skills.

Many organizations are repurposing previous training content to address issues that have escalated in the wake of the pandemic. WILL Interactive’s video training program “Partner to Heal,” for instance, helps learners experience the perspectives of multiple workers following the outbreak of an infection that could have easily been prevented.

“Learners make decisions for characters and experience the consequences of their choices,” says Versaw. “Decisions have effects both on the individual and the health care team as they try to identify, reduce and eliminate the spread of an infection at the facility.” The program was not designed specifically for COVID-19, but medical workers can build competencies around infection control by experiencing firsthand the ramifications of failing to properly follow procedures.

Relias, a training provider specializing in the health care industry, also repurposed learning content previously applied in more generic scenarios to give medical workers refreshers in practices like proper handwashing, infection spread and personal protective equipment (PPE). “Training is paramount always in ensuring the safety of staff and patients,” says Natasha Fisher, director of strategic marketing at Relias. The company reviewed its catalogue of over 7,000 courses and provided access not only to medical workers but also to the public, as individuals play a role in mitigating infection spread in their homes and communities.

Consistency

It is dangerous to assume that all medical professionals are ready to respond to a crisis. While emergency responders and intensive care nurses may be well versed in dealing with high-risk patients and situations, many medical workers are not accustomed to procedures regarding PPE or responding to compromised patients during a pandemic. In addition, many nurses and other medical professionals are being pulled onto unfamiliar, high-risk, fast-paced floors. Training them to ensure a smooth transition is integral to ensuring the safety of their patients, their colleagues and themselves.

Consistency plays a large role in preventing the spread of infection. Diverging from procedure risks exposing other patients, colleagues and areas of the facility to infection. In light of these dangers, TWI Institute’s training within industry (TWI) training targets medical workers, clinicians and volunteers who need to effectively develop skills to prevent infection spread and safely interact with and treat patients. Patrick Graupp, senior master trainer at TWI Institute, says that “TWI helps the learners to lock in quickly” on procedures with repeated, hands-on experience to avoid inconsistency and variance on the job.

Consistency is particularly critical when it comes to COVID-19 testing procedures. Penn Foster, an adult higher education provider, was unable to “identify any off-the-shelf, basic testing [training] solution,” shares Frank Britt, chief executive officer of Penn Foster, so it partnered with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to fill the need and quickly bring the solution to the public.

“We’re not training health care professionals properly on the usage of taking specimens or labeling them, which are all problems that exist now and even before [in medical facilities],” says Jaime Nguyen, director of allied health programs at Penn Foster. Moreover, “we’re wasting these critical supplies if we’re not training [medical workers] properly.” The training seeks to instill consistent, accurate and effective practices in a situation that could easily lead to misdiagnosis and continued spread of infection.

The health care industry is already seeing a shortage of talent and resources to provide effective care for patients. The ability to consistently and properly put on and take off PPE is important not only to patients but also “the health care workers,” says Graupp, “because if they don’t do those things properly,” they are at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Even knowing to remove protective headgear away from your body — rather than pulling it over your head — can significantly reduce the likelihood of infection spread.

Confidence

Alongside consistency and competency, medical workers must be confident in their ability to provide care. Certifications can give medical workers that “confidence that [they] know what [they’re] doing,” says Dr. Robyn Stone, senior vice president of research at LeadingAge and co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS (Long-term Services and Supports) Center at the UMASS Boston Gerontology Institute. To give caregivers and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) the confidence they need to care for patients, LeadingAge partnered with NextStep to create a certification program comprised of bitesize, multimodule content that learners can access on their smartphones. Topics range from preventing infection spread to changing laundry practices.

It’s important to remember that clinicians cannot have the confidence to perform their work effectively if they are burnt out and unable to care for themselves. Many organizations “are recognizing the need for training in areas around wellness and burnout and caregiver fatigue,” says Fisher. As a result, many providers, such as TWI Institute and LeadingAge, have added training on self-care and mindfulness to emphasize the importance of medical workers’ caring for themselves in order to provide meaningful bedside care and build trusting relationships with patients in high-anxiety environments.

In these uncertain, volatile times, we can find hope and comfort in the medical and training communities’ ability to unite and contribute to a common good: improving public health. Many individuals and organizations are answering the call to do their part to relieve the local, national and global burden the pandemic has placed on us all. Learning organizations are rising to the occasion by providing medical workers with the competencies, consistency and confidence they need to slow the spread of infection and flatten the curve.

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