An extra 2,000 free online training places to rapidly upskill registered nurses to enable them to work in intensive care units and support Australia’s COVID-19 surge capacity will be made available to ensure areas most in need are prioritised.
The federal government launched an online training program on April 2 offering 20,000 RNs the opportunity to boost their knowledge and become equipped to transition into High Dependency Units (HDU) and Intensive Care Units (ICU) if called upon to meet the potential demand triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The government allocated $4.1 million in funding for the training program, engaging e-learning provider Medcast to deliver two key education courses in critical care nursing and high dependency nursing designed to give RNs the skills to assist experienced nurses working in these settings.
The content of the courses, which take 32.5 hours to complete, is delivered via lectures, webinars, short videos, quizzes, and handouts.
Nurses rushed to sign up for the online training program, with the 20,000 spots filled just two weeks after applications opened.
To be eligible, RNs needed to work in an Australian public or private hospital, seek approval from their manager and start and complete the course within 28 days.
An analysis undertaken by Medcast after places had been filled revealed some areas across Australia had more nurses sign up than others, leading to concerns about an uneven distribution across the country to support the COVID-19 fight.
To restore the imbalance, the e-learning provider suspended enrolments on April 10 and set up an “Expressions of interest for remaining places” application form on its website, which states that further places will be offered to RNs working in hospitals where there is an identified need.
Medcast General Manager Kate Clutton told the ANMJ an extra 2,000 free online training places were being made available to ensure areas most in need during the COVID-19 fight are adequately supported.
She said Medcast provided a report to the Commonwealth Department of Health outlining the initial distribution of training places across the country.
It was now waiting upon direction from the country’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officers, led by Alison McMillan, to determine how they would like to prioritise remaining places.
Medcast will then use data it collects from the expressions of interest form to allocate training spots to where they are needed the most.
Ms Clutton said the SURGE – Critical care courses had attracted unprecedented interest from nurses.
“This has surpassed anything we’ve done before,” she said.
“It’s been an amazing response. I think it’s a combination of the need being so great at the moment for the nurses to be able to have these skills to be able to meet the patient demand.”
Ms Clutton said Medcast hadn’t anticipated 20,000 nurses signing up the courses so quickly but added the e-learning provider had been prepared for the flood of traffic on its platform, ensuring that the delivery of education has run smoothly, with responding to increased general user enquiries posing the greatest challenge.
The courses went live on Thursday, April 9, and she said thousands of nurses got stuck into the training over that weekend, demonstrating its enormous popularity.
“It’s been an amazing response just in terms of the nurses’ keenness and willingness to just jump in and get themselves upskilled.”
Western Australian RN Jason Gordon was among the thousands of nurses who signed up to the training course to be fast-tracked to the ICU frontline.
The 44-year-old former police officer, emergency response trainer and Navy sailor finished his graduate year at Perth’s Fiona Stanley Hospital in February before beginning work in the coronary care unit (CCU).
As the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, he was asked to upskill and shift into the intensive care unit (ICU) by undertaking a one-day course offered by the hospital to increase his knowledge to assist more senior clinicians.
When the federal government announced its new online training program to upskill 20,000 RNs to support highly-trained ICU nurses to meet the COVID-19 demand, Jason, currently working as a bedside nurse in ICU, jumped at the opportunity to refresh and enhance his knowledge.
“I think to be a nurse you have to be empathetic towards people,” he says.
“Because of the type of people we are, we care for people in their time of need, then naturally we’re going to want to step forward when these sorts of things happen [the COVID-19 response].”
“My understanding with this sort of course is that it would give someone like me the skills to be able to manage a stable patient and then the more senior, competent nurses would then care for the critical COVID-19 patients,” Jason explains.
“That was the intent behind it, to upskill enough nurses to fill the void. It was to give them [ICU nurses] that backstop as opposed to saying you’ve done a 20-hour course off you go and do all of this on your own.”
Launceston General Hospital (LGH) intensive care nurse Stephanie Lee echoed the comments when speaking to the ANMJ, welcoming the federal government’s rapid upskilling of registered nurses to support the frontline if the pandemic worsens in Australia.
“ICU is a really highly trained area and people who come to work with us do require a certain level of training and on the job training as well,” she explains.
“But I think it’s really positive in the sense that if we ever did come to a stage where we are so short of staff that we need other people, that those people are then going to be prepared. So they’re going to have some background knowledge to be able to assist us.”
Jason has almost completed the HDU and ICU courses, describing the content as targeted, valuable, interactive and confidence building.
He believes the education will help increase and solidify his knowledge and decision-making.
For example, in currently working with gastrointestinal patients returning from surgery and knowing when to administer medication and understanding the rationale behind such decisions.
Asked if a 32.5 hour course was enough to train an RN to work in ICU, Jason suggests it depends on the nurse’s existing knowledge base and points out that on the job learning will also be crucial.
“I think it comes down to what your background is,” he says.
“I think it’s a very good introductory course. If someone is considering going into ICU or critical care it’s perfect to give them a baseline but it’s certainly not the be all and end all.”
Jason was eager to step up to Fiona Stanley’s intensive care unit and join the COVID-19 response.
The hospital has a 40-bed ICU that has been broken up into four pods.
One is being used for any patients suspected of having COVID-19 that might potentially require ICU care.
Another, with a 10-bed capacity, is being used as a COVID-19 ward for positive cases likely to require intubation.
Jason has already cared for a couple of COVID-19 patients, wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) from head to toe in negative pressure rooms.
With a background in emergency response training, he was familiar with the correct use of PPE and says the COVID-19 threat to health professionals working on the frontline hasn’t daunted him.
His biggest worry surrounds the nation becoming complacent about social distancing rules and containing the spread.
“I look at society now and the way some people still aren’t practising safe social distancing. They’re starting to slip because you get that initial rush where everyone wants to do the right thing and is focused on it but I think we all become complacent and that’s where the issues can lie.”
Jason says the hospital’s ICU has banded together to tackle its small amount of COVID-19 cases.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had no deaths,” Jason says.
“Everyone’s been pretty relaxed. We talk about it and we take it very seriously. No one’s complacent and everyone’s focused.
“We’re quite lucky in WA being isolated. I think we’ve pretty much shut it down. I think the issue we’re going to have is the testing regime only changed in the last week so think the next month will tell if there has been any community spread.”