With every major, there are certain criteria that must be met in order to be eligible to graduate.

For the 10 seniors in Missouri Southern’s radiologic technology program, that includes completing their clinical rotations and competencies through area hospitals – a task thrown into doubt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As seniors, our students do eight-hour rotations throughout the semester,” said Alan Schiska, director of MSSU’s program.

The rotations allow students to gain invaluable, hands-on experience and to put theory into practice through competencies that demonstrate their knowledge in areas such as X-ray, patient care and a variety of procedures. Students at MSSU do their clinical rotations through Mercy locations in Joplin and Rogers, Ark., and Freeman Health System.

“Each hospital does things a little bit different,” said Schiska. “It gives students a strong background in the different ways of doing procedures.”

As the pandemic’s spread in the U.S. worsened in March, healthcare locations around the country had to re-evaluate student access for precautionary reasons.

“We were definitely worried,” said junior Janelle Brehm, who is slated to graduate from the program in May. “I have friends in other programs that (had competencies) canceled and worried they wouldn’t be able to graduate this semester.”

Brehm said not being able to complete her competencies would prevent her from taking her board exams, which had been scheduled for May in Springfield.

During spring break, those concerns became more real when the program was notified that safety concerns had caused the Mercy hospital locations to suspend students’ clinical rotations.

“When the virus first started spreading in the U.S., it didn’t seem as big of a deal as it became,” said senior Levi Jacks, who is also set to graduate in May. “When we learned we couldn’t go to Mercy anymore, we weren’t certain what would happen.”

Those worries were quickly alleviated with a call from Lesa Deardorff, director of radiology services at Freeman Health System.

“The first question from her was, ‘Is this going to impact their graduation?” said Schiska. “They were able to work with us to balance concern for our students’ safety and their ability to graduate.”

Freeman allowed all of the Missouri Southern seniors to complete their clinical competencies, regardless of where they had been doing their rotations.

“Although these are difficult times for many hospitals, we know that the clinical training of medical professionals is a key part of the learning process,” said Deardorff. “For possible future employees, clinicals ensure they are adequately equipped for the job.

“This is also important to make sure that these future healthcare professionals can graduate and become part of our medical community where they are certainly needed.”

Through Freeman’s assistance, all of the seniors were able to complete their competencies by the end of March and remain on track for graduation.

“It was a big relief to not have that uncertainty,” said senior Stephanie Coyle. “It meant a lot. It definitely shows the heart of Freeman, their commitment to the community and our students.”