Old Colony Memorial // By Rich Harbert // Published October 21, 2020

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, Steve Malone and other students in the physical therapist assistant program at the Plymouth campus of Quincy College learned to make do from home.

Forced into a new learning reality while on spring break, the students returned to their studies virtually. They attended classes via Zoom and used family members to practice their skills.

Learning resumed under a larger virtual format for most at the school in the Cordage Commerce Center last month, but there are some disciplines that need hands-on attention. For those in health care programs – physical therapist assistant and nursing majors – the campus has reopened for in-person instruction on a limited basis.

Covid-19 restrictions have required some concessions and adaptations for the greater public good. But students in the two programs are back in the labs, working toward associate degrees and happy for the opportunity.

Malone, a Bourne resident, is one of eight second-year students in the physical therapy assistant program. He said it was great for family members to get to see what he and fellow students were learning as they practiced on camera in their living rooms last spring. But it’s great to be back in person.

The college has split its physical therapy and nursing programs into to cohorts to minimize the number of people in the labs at any given time.

Students also follow rigorous hygiene protocols, including mandatory mask-ing and social distancing. In the lab, where students team up to practice physical therapy techniques, the emphasis remains on safety, with students working with just one partner for the entire semester.

Last Wednesday, Malone worked on exercises with classmate Breanna Severyn, while classmates Perry Wheelock and Sarah Beane practiced stretching techniques. The lab is large enough to hold all eight second-year students, but Veronica McLaughlin, the physical therapist assistant instructor, extended the social distancing by sending half of the class to study muscle groups with Syndaver, the school’s synthetic cadaver, in an adjacent lab.

McLaughlin delivers lectures once a week via Zoom and then runs lab programs on Wednesdays. She supplements it with boot camps sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays that allow students to review and practice techniques such as electrical stimulation that they simply must experience before using. “So they can feel it before they do it on patients,” McLaughlin said.

Students in the physical therapy program share time working with the synthetic cadaver with the students in the college’s nursing programs. The Plymouth campus has 18 first-year and 18 second-year students working toward associate’s degrees. The campus also has eight students in the practical nursing program.

Like physical therapist students, the nursing students work in cohorts and follow strict health guidelines. They work in a nursing lab that allows them to simulate treating real patients with four simulated patients – a man, woman, child and baby that can be programmed to have any medical condition needed. The simulated mom can even deliver a baby.

The school has had to make some accommodations for the pandemic. The linens in the hospital beds, for instance, have been replaced with shower curtains that can be sanitized quickly and easily.

Megan Carey, a second-year nursing student from Plymouth, said the precautions students are taking to be in class will be the same they eventually take on the job when they graduate and go to work in the medical profession. “This is the field we’re in. You have to roll with it,” Carey said.

Quincy College President Richard DeCristofaro got his own feel for the programs while visiting the Plymouth campus last week. “As president of Quincy College, I am continually impressed with the passion and dedication of our Plymouth campus staff and students,” DeCristofaro said. “The Physical Therapist Assistant, Nursing Program and academic coursework are student supportive and success focused accompanied by a highly professional faculty.”