BPCC Respiratory Therapy students graduate early to help during Coronavirus pandemic

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Nineteen of the 22 students enrolled in Bossier Parish Community College’s Respiratory Therapy (RT) Clinical Program have chosen to graduate early in order to continue fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health pandemic.

These 19 students will receive their degrees during a virtual graduation ceremony on Monday, June 1, 2020. A majority of this group has already signed contingent, permanent offers as a Respiratory Therapist and are in pursuit of a special temporary license to practice respiratory care.

This is a historic event for the respiratory therapy program and the college as a whole.

“They will certainly go down in BPCC’s history as being part of something that has never been done before,” RT Program Director Tim Gilmore said.

As physical campuses closed across the country, BPCC’s Respiratory Therapy (RT) Clinical Program scrambled to figure out how to not only transition to an exclusive web-based format, but how to allow clinical students the opportunity to continue to complete bedside rotations. This proved challenging as most clinical affiliates dismissed all professional students from rotations once COVID-19 shutdowns began.

However, it was quickly realized that Respiratory Therapists in particular, were in dire need with the increasing amount of ICU patients on respirators.

According to the World Health Organization, one in six COVID-19 patients becomes seriously ill and has trouble breathing. Respiratory therapists are vital to treating these patients because they are specially trained to operate ventilators as well as provide other types of cardiopulmonary care.

Because of BPCC’s reputation and the high-performing RT Clinical Program students, the community found creative ways to re-engage students in clinical rotations while fulfilling the immense need to have trained healthcare providers during the crisis. After the national accrediting body and LA State licensure board agreed to allow special provisions, BPCC students were invited back into certain healthcare facilities as hired and paid student interns.

“This unprecedented arrangement allowed upper level RT students the opportunity to not only care for COVID-19 patients but served a dual purpose to allow the completion of clinical hours ahead of schedule,” Gilmore explained.

BPCC’s “Maymester” option gave RT students the option to complete the remaining didactic coursework via web-based format while all clinical rotations (including the Monroe satellite-site) were creatively executed as paid student intern positions.

All of these unusual options gave rise to allow, for the first time in the RT program’s history, for RT Clinical Program students to graduate almost 2 months early.

Of the 22 total students in the RT program, 19 signed up for this special arrangement/allowance and completed various rotating 8-12 hour shifts to include weekends and a holiday, all concentrated within a 3 week period.

The students who are not graduating early will receive their diplomas later this summer and are expected to make an impact on healthcare while COVID-19 is a continued concern.

Carolyn Burroughs, Dean of Science, Nursing and Allied Health at BPCC, said, “I am extremely proud of these students who overcame the obstacles to continuing their education, and did so on an accelerated schedule. They demonstrated a commitment to excellence and dedication to patient care during the most trying time we have ever experienced in healthcare. We are certainly BPCC proud!”