COVID-19 testing project gives students unique opportunity to practice clinical skills

Isabel Nieto (NURS '20) enters data in the IDPH database while Dominic Gentile (COM '20) conducts a COVID-19 test on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, at Hotel 166 in Chicago, Ill. (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)
Isabel Nieto (NURS ’20) enters data in the IDPH database while Dominic Gentile (COM ’20) conducts a COVID-19 test Aug. 6 at Hotel One Sixty-Six in Chicago. (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

When the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ended clinical experiences for nursing students, University of Illinois Chicago nursing graduate student Norah Kilpatrick and her classmates started volunteering. She made masks and helped clean shelters for those experiencing homelessness. 

Then a new volunteer opportunity surfaced — one more suited to her skill set: testing Chicago’s vulnerable population for the virus. She began working with the COVID Rapid Response Team led by UI Health’s Dr. Stockton Mayer. Mayer, along with faculty and students from UIC, began working with the Unsheltered Chicago Coalition to deliver COVID-19 testing to shelters, open living areas and senior housing.  

Recently, Kilpatrick and the COVID Rapid Response Team tested people who were quarantined at Chicago’s Hotel 166.  

“Everyone has a role to play in the pandemic. At first, my role was uncertain. Students in health professional programs have a set of skills that can be really useful,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m grateful I found the team and can give back to the Chicago community.” 

Working with other nursing students and one of her instructors, Rebecca Singer, an associate professor at the College of Nursing, Kilpatrick and the team have tested thousands of Chicagoans and visited shelters, quarantine locations, encampments and senior housing multiple times.  

At first, Kilpatrick said, they were a bit of a rag-tag team learning about their assignments the night before.  

“Now, we’re professionalized. It’s a streamlined effort that protects students and gives them a great experience,” Kilpatrick said.  

Today there are multiple teams, each conducting tests at five locations a week. UIC nursing students are now engaging with the team as part of their community clinical rotation. Kilpatrick is now employed by the program as a site coordinator. She said her experience has been positive. 

“Working on this project puts a lot into perspective. In the beginning of COVID, people were worried about getting toilet paper and cleaning wipes. But what about the people who can’t afford to hoard supplies?” Kilpatrick said. “I was encouraged and surprised to see others were not forgetting about those who can’t access resources. There is an amazing group of doctors and nurses and other professionals out there that really care about the unhoused population of Chicago.” 

Hotel One Sixty-Six by UIC Creative & Digital Services on Exposure
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