A Roundup of Ideas From Your Fellow Program Directors and Instructors

In light of the need for social distancing, ARC/STSA asked instructors to share their solutions and protocols for lab rotations and other activities that usually involve hands-on instruction. We also asked for suggestions on how to obtain protective personal equipment (PPE) for students when it is not made available at clinical sites. What follows is a compilation of ideas and tips we received.

General Health and Safety

  • Require a weekly health acknowledgement to complete online, prior to students attending in person, or use a screening app available via smartphone. Implement mandatory temperature check, using thermal scanners, for staff and students upon arrival.
  • Split the class into lab groups limited to five students at a time.
  • Require masks and maintain a safe social distance. Wear gloves when handling any lab equipment.
  • Provide emergency communication and operational plans via Learning Management System (LMS) regarding COVID-19, safety protocols, social distancingand mandatory face mask use.
  • Close off any meal accommodations (refrigerators, microwaves and counter spaces) to avoid unnecessary touching of surfaces. Do not allow eating in the building.
  • All students must complete an initial scrub upon entering lab.
  • When not in a gown and gloves, all students wear nitrile (non-sterile) gloves.


  • In the lab, issue students individual PPE packs and have them re-use the pack for practice sessions.
  • Purchase cloth PPE options for the lab and offer face shields to wear.
  • Work with the clinical site purchasing department to order and purchase PPE through the hospital. Hospitals have priority and better access to PPE. They may be willing to purchase additional supplies for your students for a fee, which given their bulk orders may still be a better price than your program could negotiate.
  • Discuss a plan of action with the campus administration to purchase PPE in advance of the next cohort.
  • Communication is key for PPE challenges — prior to purchasing N-95 masks for clinical, be aware of the type of mask required, to avoid purchasing the wrong type.
  • Involve your Program Advisory Committee (PAC) to share ideas on obtaining PPE.
  • Work with the campus procurement department to set up additional vendors as a supply resource.
  • As a backup, require all students to purchase cloth masks and hats for the lab, to alleviate supply chain problems. (This has been very successful for some programs.)

Social Distancing and a Clean Lab Environment

  • Separate students in the lab when working on set ups by using shower curtains held up with PVC pipes. One instructor noted the cost for a shower curtain and stand was under $7. They come apart, can be stored easily and are wiped down by faculty after each lab.
  • Use individual lab supplies that are not shared and kept solely in the lab. Some programs utilize 40g plastic totes for each student’s supplies (primarily disposable items like packs, basins and gowns).
  • Consider the virtual lab experience: Students online partner with a classmate in the lab. As skills are completed, the virtual attendee marks the student’s technique. Roles are reversed for each section.
  • Redesign building and lab traffic for one-way paths. Signs on the floors and walls indicate the direction of “traffic.”

Alternate Lab Activities

  • J&J Institute has a library of continuing education (CE) activities that can be incorporated into the curriculum. Students complete the CE modules and upload a certificate of completion (noting that they must obtain a certain score/threshold for credit).
  • Touch Surgery is a free service on mobile devices (a desktop version is available for a fee). Many of these activities go hand-in-hand with what students are being taught.
  • Use JOMI to assign specific cases with pre-planned questions, or case studies that incorporate the JOMI procedure with the course text to complete.
  • ISIP Manager: This is not free but allows instructors to create a database for their students in their market with surgeons, preference cards and sets that the students will encounter during clinical rotations. These can be incorporated into assignments that students will create sets into the system, based on what they used in clinical, create preference cards for the procedures they participated in, and edit current data within the system to make it current.

See the ARC/STSA website for additional instructor resources and webinar resources. A special thank you to our contributors: Mel Angelisanti, AA, AAS, CSFA, CST, program chair, surgical technology, Central Piedmont Community College; and Connie Bell, CST, FAST, and Maggie Griffith, BS, CST, on behalf of the surgical technology programs at North-West College, Glendale Career College and Nevada Career Institute