Industry Insights
Thought Leadership

Capacity-building in Healthcare Through Field Placements for Online Programs

01/17/22   |  
Mallory Schindler, Senior Vice President of Placement Operations, Keypath Education

Quality field placement opportunities are crucial when properly preparing students in health care. When it comes to saving lives, honing and enhancing practical skills is critical. However, a limited number of available field placements has contributed to reduced enrollment in four-year nursing-school programs at a time when an ageing population of registered nurses is nearing retirement and a projected 1.1 million new registered nurses is needed to avoid a nursing shortage in the coming years.

Developing more online nursing programs — with a field placement component — would add the capacity that healthcare systems urgently need. In fact, online programs already have grown to meet the shifting demands and schedules of learners, and universities. National accrediting bodies have also grown in their approach to field education and oversight.

For established programs, identifying nearby clinical sites and providers for field placements is straightforward. For many universities creating in-house, online healthcare programs, the biggest challenge is developing a network of placement sites outside of a school’s vicinity.

Opening opportunities to increase capacity

Placement opportunities that are close to an online program’s host campus are convenient for students and faculty. To secure these, universities need funding and staffing resources to help them reach out to new hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The opportunities must be carefully considered for the quality of field placements and to ensure proper credentialing and insurance are in order before students can learn at the sites. It also takes time and effort to establish and maintain a relationship between faculty and site supervisors.

Nurse giving treat to patient

There are situations, though, where a more distant placement would be better — such as if an online student’s home is closer to the healthcare facility than to the host campus, or if a particular hospital specializes in an area of interest to the student. But even if the resources were available to build a connection between these healthcare facilities and the program, would these placement opportunities meet the needs of the program and the students? Would these locations have the staff, time, and ability to provide students with meaningful and engaging learning experiences?

Online Program Management (OPM) providers, like Keypath Education, specialize in establishing robust field networks and placement opportunities for online programs that have field education requirements. Partnering with OPMs with a high-quality network of clinical and field placement providers can connect students with real-world experiences to effectively translate academic knowledge into practical acumen in clinical settings. These programs let students study online, access placement opportunities within their own communities, build clinical confidence and, in some cases, continue their careers post-graduation with the facility where they experienced the clinical component of their studies.

Today, too many jobs – especially in health care – are going unfilled. Two years of dealing with a raging pandemic is also leading to a chronic nursing shortage. OPMs enable a wide variety of solutions to take this challenge on.

One reason universities hesitate to add enrollment in these online programs is the lack of clinical placements in proximity to campus. By eliminating the need for students or field experiences to be located close to the campus, universities can significantly increase capacity for nursing and healthcare programs to meet the projected shortage as the number of available jobs across the industry far outpaces the number of degrees conferred annually.

Benefits to institutions and students

Adding online courses – especially in in-demand fields such as nursing – to an institution’s on-campus offerings increases overall campus revenue without adding classroom facilities and resources. This revenue could be used to increase staff, invest in research, and support faculty engagement through professional development activities. Expanding programs also increases institutional brand and program recognition across the country and creates a wider, more diverse alumni network.

Introducing online learning with field placement opportunities also shows a school’s commitment to innovation and its flexibility in the ever-evolving field of education. Academic institutions that have embraced the many possibilities unlocked through remote learning and enhanced technology can more quickly adapt to advances in the field or to future events which drastically alter the educational landscape. Schools that are ill-prepared or unable to change in the face of circumstance may fall behind, putting students, faculty and communities at risk.

As part of its mission to partner with universities to bring in-demand education programs online and provide quality field opportunities, Keypath Education provides placement coordinators to serve as the primary points of contact to guide and help students as they navigate complicated clinical clearances, compliance requirements, and site assessments. Preceptors – carefully identified nurses and clinicians at the healthcare facility – mentor and guide students through the challenges of applying classroom theory in a clinical setting.

Data and insights garnered by Keypath Education from students’, teachers’ and supervisors’ experiences help improve placement opportunities. By tracking progress and identifying potential challenges, OPMs can help universities and faculty respond to feedback to make sure placements meet students’ needs and fulfill program requirements.

Providing online education supported by quality field programs also lowers two major barriers to postsecondary education: distance deterrence – the need to move to university cities or towns to pursue higher learning; and life-stage deterrence – the inability to drastically alter a person’s life and family situation.

By offering quality, location-convenient field experiences, students are afforded the flexibility to practice, network and develop their skills within their own communities. Students don’t need to move across the state or country for their nursing degrees. Parents don’t have to uproot their lives and families. Meanwhile, the local healthcare system gains an active and engaged provider who is deeply invested in giving back and caring for their friends, families and neighbours, and a local or regional university gets to expand its alumni footprint nationally.

Expanding the reach of educational opportunities and clinical placements also improves the quality of health care in underserved, rural and urban areas. New techniques and methodology can be learned in an online classroom setting, then offered to the community through a local clinical experience.

An online extension, not a replacement

On-campus learning alone and universities’ limited nearby networks of field placements have lagged behind in meeting the increased need for nurses and other healthcare professionals. The extension of a university with the introduction of online programs doesn’t mean a university needs to abandon its traditions, program culture, or on-campus enrollments. The invaluable lessons that an institution has learned can be applied to its placement opportunities, regardless of proximity to the university. In the same regard, new techniques and efficiencies discovered through online programming with field placement can inform and heighten the experience through enriched classroom discussion and diverse clinical case studies.

The nation’s need for nurses and other healthcare professionals is surging. Where and through what modality a student studies is less relevant than ever; a nurse's success is being measured by their competency and ability to skillfully serve patients in their communities. Likewise, the success of institutions is not being judged by their method of program delivery, but by their ability to educate and graduate proficient nurses, helping to address the nursing shortage and supporting the greater healthcare sector.

The future of nursing requires students and institutions to embrace the benefits of online education with field placement. This will lead to more open and accessible education and better healthcare for everyone. Keypath Education and other OPMs can help universities expand their clinical footprints and increase accessibility in this time of urgent demand and need.

If you're interested in learning more about how Keypath Education is helping universities create capacity and expand their clinical footprint, get in touch with us here.