In March, the phones at Ventura County Public Health (VCPH) would not stop ringing.
As the initial impacts of COVID-19 were being felt throughout the United States, VCPH, like many other health organizations, was being inundated with concerned calls from the public and health care professionals.
That’s when California State University Channel Islands nursing students stepped in to lend a hand. From March 14 to 15, seniors in the nursing program volunteered to answer phones, giving information and calming people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or anxiety related to the pandemic.
Lilian Kozma was one of those students.
“Those phones, I kid you not, would not stop ringing,” Kozma said in a news release. “There were public health nurses there, but they didn’t have time to show us what to do, so I just jumped in there and answered calls.”
Kozma and other nursing student volunteers, like Gabriel Mosse, said their training at CSUCI prepared them to help during an unprecedented public emergency.
“At the beginning, it felt very overwhelming,” Mosse said. “As I took phone calls, I realized, yes, I was prepared. The nice thing about being seniors is we’ve seen a variety of different types of medicine and different types of people. In this case, it wasn’t so much about medicine, but about interacting with different people, just like we did in clinicals.”
The students were quick learners with good critical thinking skills, the VCPH’s director of public health nursing Megan Steffy said.
“There are some things you can’t teach, like empathic listening, and these students did really well,” Steffy said.
The students had stepped up when they learned the department needed nursing student volunteers, CSUCI assistant professor of nursing Charlene Niemi said. She offered to count their volunteer work as clinical hours and said the experience brought together a lot of what she lectures about in a moment that was valuable for students.
“They needed to multitask,” Niemi said. “They needed to deal with a very worried and scared public. They were able to calm nerves. They were able to go on the Centers for Disease Control website and keep themselves updated with changes. They knew what to say to business owners calling to ask what it meant to businesses if they had to close down.”
Along with taking calls, CSUCI nursing students have been screening people entering the Vista Del Mar Hospital in Ventura.
“I think they are gaining a new appreciation for public health and what public health means,” said Lynette Landry, chair of the nursing program at CSUCI. “And it’s reflective of the level of civic engagement they have.”
It’s no surprise, then, that CSUCI’s nursing program is ranked 11th out of 126 programs in California by RegisteredNursing.org. It has also made waves at the national level, ranking in the top 20% of programs nationwide in the Nursing Schools Almanac.
The program’s high rankings are due to a faculty that goes above and beyond for students, and students who do the same for each other, Landry said. That spirit carries into their volunteer work.
“I’ve never worked anywhere where the students are so engaged,” Landry said. “Most of them do between 100 and 1,000 hours of community service each semester, from staffing a first aid tent at a marathon to a health fair to working in a food pantry. We have amazing students.”
For more information about the nursing program and how the university is dealing with the pandemic, visit CSUCI.edu.