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BW health care programs at center of COVID-19

headshot of Betty NapoleonBetty Napoleon has cared for older individuals for much of her nursing career. Though the health care settings varied, the constant she always saw was the wrinkles on their faces. She knew each one was like a chiseled badge of honor reflecting a hardship or perhaps just the passing of decades of time.

Today, she knows the risks associated with their vulnerability to a disease like COVID-19, which is why she keeps them in the back of her mind as she teaches her students in BW's Accelerated BSN program. Coursework and clinicals are the foundation of a good nurse, but Napoleon knows there is always something more ... heart.

Pivoting to Respond to the Pandemic

"Leadership, communication, teamwork and critical thinking skills have always been important to the nursing profession," emphasized Napoleon, Ph.D., R.N., C.C.M., who serves as chair of BW's Department of Nursing. "But today, these skills have added importance because the health care system needs its professionals to work as a team in helping patients, their families and the community."

headshot of Jared PenningtonJared Pennington, Ph.D., PA-C, is in agreement with Napoleon. As director of BW's Physician Assistant (PA) program, he teaches his students the value of teamwork, both in a health care setting as well as among their peers in the PA program.

"Social distancing has made clinical rotations challenging for our students because they can't be at the usual settings due to COVID-19 concerns," he explained. "It was disappointing for them. But we're a tight-knit group, so we rallied together and found ways to give them those important learning experiences.

"Virtual learning can be very effective when done in the right way. Professors in our program are practitioners, so we have the ability to create real-world scenarios that give students outstanding learning experiences. Though we, as professors, may not be in a hospital or health care setting every day, we know the things that are going on because we have a strong network across Northeast Ohio of peers, partners and even BW alumni who've graduated from our program and are in those settings day-to-day."

Likewise, Napoleon and her staff have an impressive span of program directors, nurses and other contacts in the region. In fact, some of her professors are working in area hospitals as nurses. Similar to the PA program, clinicals in the nursing program are taught online from professors with decades of experience.

Sounding the alarm for public health

Students in BW's undergraduate and graduate public health programs, under the direction of Swagata Banik, Ph.D., professor and chair of BW's Department of Public Health & Prevention Science, are seeing the importance of their career profession at the center of the pandemic crisis.

Whether it's an undergraduate student in BW's public health major who is volunteering in a nursing home or a graduate student in the Master of Public Health program working in a front-line or supporting profession at a hospital, the real-world experience surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is invaluable.

headshot of Laura Hopkins"I teach a global health class at BW," said assistant professor Laura Hopkins, Ph.D., R.D. "We've been discussing COVID-19 all semester, especially around topics of how globalization impacts health and discussions about infectious diseases. It is a case study that is unfolding all around us in real time.

"Public health has always been a topic of critical importance because it is multi-faceted and has far-reaching impact to all areas of society and global issues," she stressed. "Now more than ever, people are seeing how public health issues directly affect our health care systems, economy, businesses, government operations and much more."

A Career Field that is a Lifeline

"I expect to see a surge in this career field as more people look to public health as a profession. I think we'll see more high school students choose public health as a major because of their interest in social impact issues and their strong sense of community in making the world a better place," stressed Hopkins.

"Likewise, I think many individuals who are already employed will look to public health as a growing career field that can help them expand their skills in a current job or prepare for a promotion or a career pivot," she added.

headshot of Emilia LombardiIn agreement with Hopkins is Emilia Lombardi, Ph.D. She, like Hopkins, teaches undergraduate and graduate students in BW's public health programs. "In Ohio, Dr. Amy Action is director of our state's department of health. She has become a very positive face for public health. That can impact how people perceive public health.

"BW made a concerted commitment to public health in 2011 when it began its undergraduate program," said Lombardi. "BW further established its leadership role when it began its master's program in public health in 2016 with MetroHealth as its partner.

"The relationships we've built across the medical and health community in our region are exceptional. Swagata had the vision to help BW become a leader in public health because he knew public health played a decisive role in the well-being of a community. Today, public health is the first thing addressed on national news each evening and across all digital platforms. And I don't think that'll change anytime soon. But public health is more than headline news. It is a lifeline for all of us," acknowledged Lombardi.

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