PEORIA (WEEK) - Those on the front lines have become the hero's of the pandemic, dealing with the unknowns that have come with COVID-19.
Dealing with their own set of challenges however, are the nursing and other medical students studying to join them and their instructors helping them get there.
This fall, students are taking advantage of every moment in the classroom after their in-person labs, simulations, and clinicals had to stop when the stay-at-home order was announced by Governor JB Pritzker.
Sandie Soldwisch, the President of OSF Healthcare College of Health Sciences, said it was no easy task to turn curriculums on their head.
"Last school year turned out to be an extreme challenge, particularly on March 17th, It's a day I'll never forget." said Soldwisch
Local colleges wasted no time converting to online platforms so their students could continue pursuing their degrees.
"In two days they were ready to go. We started online classes no later than Tuesday the next week. It didn't even take a week." said James Dire, the Chancellor of Methodist College in Peoria, "My faculty and staff were awesome getting ready to convert everything to online instruction."
"It was crazy because we thought we were going home for you know a 5 day spring break and then it turns into 6 months so our worlds were kind of shaken a little bit." said Senior at Methodist College, Megan Henderson
Lessons that used to be done on mannequins or on actual patients in clinical settings had to be shifted to computer simulations.
" So they would be able to manipulate tools electronically at home or talk through those activities. So they were actually able to engage in skill development." said Soldwisch
"Getting that hands on experience to learning completely online, teaching ourselves, reading and all that was just a whole different type of learning style so it was definitely overwhelming and just crazy at first." said Methodist College Senior Mikayla Norville
Methodist College Assistant Professor Lisa Preston said the changes started important conversations to make sure every student could graduate.
"The topic of equality became a very different topic at that point. You needed to make sure that students had access to computers, access to internet, that they had a quiet environment at home, many students had their children at home." said Preston, "So flexibility was huge. You really couldn't expect the same thing from every single student."
Last year's seniors, who were ready to take their licensing exams, had to wait as testing centers shut down. But local colleges said that area hospitals had limited capacity, so they did not miss out on job opportunities.
"Many of those new positions that our graduates would have taken were basically put on hold for a short period of time which actually aligned very well because the opportunity to take the licensure exam in the state of Illinois was also backlogged." said Soldwisch at OSF
Fast forward to this fall, Megan Henderson and her fellow students said they are appreciating every moment more.
"When I walked back into the school for the first time I almost cried tears of joy, it gives me goose bumps just talking about it. I was so excited to finally be back because you just can't replace that hands on learning experience and the face to face education and interaction." said Henderson
There are some changes though. For some schools it means smaller class sizes or more time inbetween to properly clean.
Teachers are getting creative to social distance, using laser pointers to show instructions.
"We might be doing some things even better then we did them before. And in education, it won't be the way it used to be. It's going to be a lot different moving forward and what we're learning now we're only going to get better." said Wendee Guth , the Dean Of Health Careers at Illinois Central College
For Madison Deruiter, a Senior at Saint Francis Medical Center College Of Nursing, the unknowns of the coronavirus aren't a deterrent, but a motivator.
"I'm excited to get into the field and I wish that we could work with the COVID patients just because you know that's what we're going to get here in a couple months." said Deruiter, "Obviously we didn't have the opportunity to get pushed forward into the work force but if that were an opportunity, I would jump at it."
Soldwisch said she feels COVID-19 has made nurses and others in the medical field receive the appreciation they deserve for their hard work.
"I do believe that this crisis has increased the awareness of people to the value of nurses and all of the things that nurses can do and how we contribute to health." said Soldwisch