Field Courses

When transitioning to alternative modes of course delivery during a disruption – currently the COVID-19 pandemic – some courses require additional planning and considerations, such as field courses: clinical, educational, agricultural and community based.

A team consisting of representative leadership from across the university developed the following academic and logistical recommendations for the resumption of field courses including clinical academic experiences on and off of the UW–Madison campus. While some recommendations are at the campus-level, others are program-specific to address varying program needs such as accreditation and licensing. The recommendations concerning the safe resumption of field placement activities is founded upon the following key principles:

  • Ensure the safety of our students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure students make timely progress toward meeting degree requirements.

Additionally, the recommendations include guidance for monitoring and decision-making of field placement sites, as well as scenarios that identify context-specific challenges and solutions in agricultural, business, clinical, community, and educational settings.

Considerations for Approving Field Courses

Field placements should follow the safety and accountability guidelines outlined on this page. Program directors’ requests for permission to initiate face-to-face activities should document adherence to safety guidelines. The dean is responsible for reviewing and approving requests that adhere to the guidelines. Requests should verify: 

  • The placement meets core graduation, accreditation, or licensing requirements
  • Students cannot obtain the skills or experience through an alternative activity conducted remotely
  • Safety guidelines are met

Safety Considerations

The responsibility of ensuring a safe environment for field courses is shared amongst instructors, students, field site coordinators, and leadership in the program, department, school and college. 

A key step is to identify a point person – such as an instructor, clinical placement coordinator, department chair – who is responsible for determining that safety standards and conditions continue to be met throughout the term of the placement. In addition, the point person collaborates with all parties to ensure they’re meeting their responsibilities. If responsibilities are not being met, the point person should have the ability to terminate participation.

Key Responsibilities

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All Groups

  • Stay current on student safety issues and incidence of COVID-19 locally and at field placement sites. Changes to planned educational experiences may be necessary based on incidence. 
  • Monitor field placement sites to assure that adequate numbers of educators are available at the site to support student learning.

Point Person

  • Serve as a COVID-19 liaison between students, field placement facilities and the program, department or school.
  • Determine safety standards and conditions continue to be met throughout the term of the placement.
  • Review, prioritize and reinforce safety standards on a regular basis.
  • Regularly monitor campus, state, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance impacting travel and other concerns about site conditions not being met (such as failure to provide PPE, inadequate cleaning, failure to practice physical distancing). The goal in such situations is to work collaboratively with the agency toward a mutually acceptable outcome.
  • Collect and review field site COVID-19 policies and continually monitor and reinforce.
  • Be available to receive student concerns related to field placement facilities and report concerns to program, department and school leadership.
  • Receive student concern reports and make decisions (with appropriate leadership input) regarding alteration or termination of field placement or reassignment of student to a new field placement site.

Instructor

  • Update syllabus to include critical information such as:
    • Designated program, department or school official that a student should contact if they test positive for COVID-19.
    • Appropriate testing and quarantine processes as informed by university policy.
  • Ensure students are aware of UW-Madison mental and physical health resources before field placements occur.

Student

  • Self-monitor for symptoms and report to designated program, department or school official as outlined in the syllabus.
  • Follow processes for appropriate testing and quarantine as outlined in syllabus and informed by university policy.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) before, during and after field placement experiences.
  • Adhere to all safety practices of the field site.
  • Adhere to all travel safety guidelines.

Field Site

  • Adhere to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines
  • Develop and provide clear plans to minimize the risk of infection with COVID-19, which will include descriptions of expected operating procedures, cleaning protocols, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Field sites that do not have COVID-19 plans are ineligible for student placement.
  • Provide safety training, and either supply all necessary PPE or inform programs and students of what materials they are expected to bring to the field placement. All training must be documented.
  • Monitor and enforce protocols for use of physical distance and hand sanitization as a control strategy.
  • Identify a site COVID-19 liaison to provide a consistent line of communication to program, department or school leadership through the point person.
  • Provide point person a weekly (or as needed) update of local COVID status.
  • Facilities that provide care to suspected or known COVID-19 positive individuals must:
    • Provide detailed information and training about preventive and safety measures specifically for students and will ensure that adequate PPE is available when necessary for the students. 
    • Inform students of the risk and option for opting out from working with known or suspected COVID-19 positive individuals. 

Program, Department, and School Leadership

  • Decide whether their students are allowed to work with known or suspected COVID-19 positive individuals.
  • Assess and address liability considerations for the university, site and student.
  • Identify a point person for each field placement.
  • Review student concern reports and help the point person make decisions regarding alteration or termination of field placement or reassignment of student to a new field placement site.

Travel Considerations

Transportation to and from field experiences can occur via many different venues, including but not limited to private vehicle, university owned fleet van, contracted bus or public transit (e.g., Madison Metro). Ensuring student safety while in transit to and from the field venue is an important consideration as departments and schools weigh the risk/benefit ratio of the overall field experience. Therefore, the following safety guidelines should be considered.

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Private Vehicles

  • No more than two students per vehicle.
  • All occupants should wear cloth masks.
  • Interior vehicle surfaces should be wiped down with disinfectant (per CDC guidelines) before leaving, after arrival at field site and upon return.

UW–Madison Fleet-owned Van or Car

  • Review UW Transportation Services Smart Restart Hub
  • Students should maintain physical distancing and wear cloth masks.
  • Department or school should be provided with the cleaning protocol of fleet vehicles and adhere to protocol.

Contracted Bus or Public Transportation

  • Students must abide by service regulations during COVID-19 response (e.g., limited number of passengers, one-way entrance and exits).
  • Consider that bus capacity is greatly reduced (check with the bus company for details at the time of travel).
  • Students should maintain physical distancing and wear cloth masks while riding on the bus.
  • Attention should be paid to potential delays in arrivals due to rider restrictions and travel schedules adapted to account for delays.

Students must review UW-Madison travel warnings for land or air travel and take these into consideration before making travel plans. International experiences and air travel are currently not advised.

Response Considerations

Plan ahead for what to do when issues occur such as if a student identifies potential symptoms or a field placement site notes an increase in COVID-19 cases. This document outlines recommended responses to take in some of these cases.

Case Studies

All field placements should adhere to the above listed general safety guidelines. However, specific contexts and locations in which students are placed may require additional measures and considerations. The following case studies provide additional guidance. Requests for approval should be prepared in this format.

On-Campus Case Studies

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UW Veterinary Care

Context: UW Veterinary Care, teaching hospital associated with School of Vet Med. This campus facility is a primary and tertiary care hospital. Veterinary Medical fourth year (VM4) students rotate through specialty and primary care services, learning from post-graduate interns and residents and faculty clinicians. The majority of the VM4 year is spent learning hands on skills and a problem oriented approach to patient assessment and care. 

Challenge: The main safety challenge associated with this site is the small physical footprint of the hospital and school, as well as the nature of patient care, which makes physical distancing difficult.

Location-specific solution: As a UW facility, while on-site, students must wear self-supplied face coverings at all times, face shields are optional and will be supplied by the SVM. Physical distancing when possible, rigorous hand hygiene, and cleaning protocols are enforced throughout the hospital and school. Animals from COVID-19+ households are wiped down with a lactic acid containing disinfectant wipe (an udder wipe) before entering the hospital.

Counseling Psychology Training Clinic (CPTC)

Context: The CPTC, located on the 3rd floor of the Educational Sciences Building, is the in-house Department of Counseling Psychology training clinic. This campus facility is used for practice/mock and individual and group counseling sessions serving both UW students and community clients. One-way mirrors from two observation rooms allow other students, instructors, and supervisors to view sessions live in each of the 7 counseling rooms distributed around the perimeter that includes recording-equipment as all sessions are recorded for training purposes and are fed to a clinic server. The larger observation room is the only shared space with the School Psychology program affiliated clinics; the CPTC controls access and scheduling for all other clinic rooms. First year MS students practice interviewing with each other and with volunteer clients drawn from an undergraduate class. PhD and some MS students provide counseling services to DDEEA- affiliated students, other UW students referred from UHS and campus partners, and members of the Madison/Dane County community. The rooms are also used for clinical supervision of the counseling students for meetings with their supervisors and, occasionally, some clinical courses use the rooms for course assignments related to clinical skill development. The CPTC is typically open 20 hours/week on 3 different days. There is a ‘group’ room allowing for small groups (8 – 10 members with 1 – 2 co-facilitating counselors) to receive services (counseling or supervision) in a group format. There are small meeting rooms allowing for ‘staffing’ where all counselors and observers convene at the end of each day to provide feedback, ask questions and receive guidance. 

Challenge: The main safety challenge associated with this site is the small physical footprint of the counseling, meeting, and observation rooms in which persons are usually seated next to each other and, in the counseling rooms, counselors/supervisors sit opposite clients/supervisees usually within 3 – 4 feet. The door knobs, recording equipment, and laptops used by clients to input intake information, are often in use and would require frequent disinfecting. Additionally, the CPTC waiting area has a main desk where clients check in which is staffed by department students and would need a barrier (e.g., plexiglass shield).

Location-specific solution: As a UW facility, while on-site students must wear self-supplied face coverings at all times, with face coverings provided to clients who did not bring one with them. Physical distancing when possible, rigorous hand hygiene, and cleaning protocols will be enforced throughout the CPTC clinic operating hours.

Off-Campus Case Studies

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Acute Setting at UW Hospital and other Inpatient Hospital Settings

Context: UW Hospital and other inpatient hospitals. Health professional students must participate in hands-on clinical apprenticeship experiences to meet program objectives and accreditation requirements, as well as to achieve on-time graduation and national deadlines for postgraduate training and certification for health professionals. Timely completion of health professions programs is critical to meet the growing need for healthcare providers in the state of Wisconsin and beyond. 

Challenge: The primary safety challenges are the difficulty of physical distancing in providing patient care, and the risk of exposure to asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19+ patients, learners, faculty, or staff. All hands-on clinical experiences are limited to that which are essential to meet graduation and accreditation standards. 

Location-specific solution: Students will have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – face shield and medical grade mask – in all clinical settings. In operating rooms, non-aerosol related procedure areas, and emergency departments, additional PPE such as gloves, gowns, hair covers, and shoe covers will be provided. No students will care for patients known to be, or presumed to be, COVID-19+ or participate in high-risk aerosolized procedures, such as intubation. All students will be required to adhere to appropriate physical distancing when feasible, as well as masking practices, as monitored by faculty and health system supervisors and guided by state, county, and/or campus policies. Learners’ clinical experiences will be scheduled to accommodate appropriate physical distancing capacities of specific work areas. Health system and campus education leaders will continue to meet regularly to assess and address issues as they arise, including removing learners from the clinical setting if it is deemed unsafe or inappropriate for them to remain. Students will only be placed where the health system or surrounding community has sufficient SARS-COV-2 testing availability to test any learner with mild symptoms or exposure concerns. The school will continue to work closely with University Health Services and the health systems to ensure that all learners are appropriately screened, tested, and cared for and that they follow all monitoring and quarantine guidelines. All students are required to carry health insurance and follow the health system and school policies for screening, immunizations, and exposures.

Outpatient Setting

Context: Clinics and other outpatient settings including UW Hospital and Clinics sites. Health professional students must participate in hands-on clinical apprenticeship experiences to meet program objectives and accreditation requirements, as well as to achieve on-time graduation and national deadlines for postgraduate training and certification for health professionals. These often include ambulatory care settings. Timely graduation from health professions programs is critical to meet the growing need for healthcare providers in the state of Wisconsin and beyond. 

Challenge: The primary safety challenges are the difficulty of physical distancing in providing patient care, and the risk of exposure to asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic COVID-19+ patients, learners, faculty, or staff. All hands-on clinical experiences are limited to that which are essential to meet graduation and accreditation standards.

Location-specific solution: Students will have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – face shield and medical grade mask – in all clinical settings. No students will care for patients known to be, or presumed to be, COVID-19+. All students will be required to adhere to appropriate physical distancing when feasible, as well as masking practices, as monitored by faculty and health system/clinic supervisors and guided by state, county, and/or campus policies. Learners’ clinical experiences will be scheduled to accommodate appropriate physical distancing capacities of specific work areas. Health system and campus education leaders will continue to meet regularly to assess and address issues as they arise, including removing learners from the clinical setting if it is deemed unsafe or inappropriate for them to remain. Students will only be placed where the health system or surrounding community has sufficient SARS-COV-2 testing availability to test any learner with mild symptoms or exposure concerns. The school will continue to work closely with University Health Services and the health systems/clinics to ensure that all learners are appropriately screened, tested, and cared for and that they follow all monitoring and quarantine guidelines. All students are required to carry health insurance and follow the health system/clinic and school policies for screening, immunizations, and exposures.

Educational Setting (Educator Preparation)

Context: Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in educator preparation programs (e.g., majors that fulfill licensing requirements to be high school science teachers, special educators, art teachers) are required to complete a series of PK-12 school-based field experiences. These field experiences are degree requirements as well as licensure requirements. Additionally, research demonstrates that developmental field experiences in authentic school settings under the mentorship of licensed, expert educators are hallmarks of high-quality preparation. Most of the school settings used for these field experiences include elementary, middle, and high schools within a 50-mile radius of Madison – with approximately 80% of those school sites within Dane County.

Field experiences include full-time, semester-long “student teaching” experiences, as well as part-time (~12-20 hours per week) “practicum” experiences. At this time, the school districts that we typically partner with as sites are still deciding how they will structure their own educational offerings to their own PK-12 learners. UW-Madison students completing field experiences will be expected to participate in the educational activities being offered. This means that some of our students may be working with their mentors in a completely virtual environment, while others will be working with their mentors to provide in-person instructions, and still others will be participating in hybrid options. 

Challenge: Aside from the challenges associated with the wide variation in modality of service delivery, we also anticipate that school districts will want to limit the number of additional people who are in their school buildings. For this reason, we are exploring remote supervision options to replace our typical in-person observations and follow up meetings. We do not anticipate unique health risks associated with PK-12 school settings specifically.

Location-specific solution: We will require that students use self-supplied face coverings and follow all safety and physical distancing guidelines set by their school sites, including physical distancing, regular hand washing, and hand sanitizing. All practicum students will have the option to fulfill their required practicum field experience through alternative (video based) activities if they do not feel comfortable completing field hours in an in-person school setting.

Educational (Social Work) Setting

Context: UW-Madison Social Work graduate students work directly with students under the supervision of the school social worker. They are engaged in activities working directly with children, families, and school personnel. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires a field placement in a school setting under the supervision of a MSW to meet licensing requirements. School settings used for these field experiences include elementary, middle, and high schools with a majority of the school sites within Dane County and the others located throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Challenge: Aside from the challenges associated with the wide variation in modality of service delivery, we also anticipate that school districts will want to limit the number of additional people who are in their school buildings. For this reason, we are exploring remote supervision options to replace our typical in-person observations and follow up meetings and remote field activities to supplement some of the on-site activities when necessary. Another challenge is students often engage in activities outside of the school setting (home visits, trainings, interprofessional team meetings, etc.) which may present unique health risks.

Location-specific solution: We will require that students use self-supplied face coverings (if not provided by the site) and follow all safety and physical distancing guidelines set by their field placement sites, including physical distancing, regular hand washing, and hand sanitizing. All practicum students will have the option to fulfill their required practicum field experience through alternative remote based activities if they do not feel comfortable completing field hours in an in-person agency setting.

Community Setting (Veterinary Services)

Context: WisCARES veterinary medical and social services clinic located at 1402 Emil Street. WisCARES serves animals owned by people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, as well as animals owned by people who self-certify to be living at or below the poverty level. 

Challenge: This population of humans tends to be at risk for worse outcomes of COVID-19+, but there are no unique risks to students who rotate through this clinical experience. 

Location-specific solution: As a UW facility, while on-site students must wear self-supplied face coverings at all times, face shields are optional and will be supplied by the SVM. Physical distancing when possible, rigorous hand hygiene, and cleaning protocols are in place. Animals from COVID-19+ households are wiped down with disinfectant before entering the clinic.

Community Setting (Social Work)

Context: Field placements in community settings range from private non-profit to governmental agencies providing a variety of services including but not limited to; home visiting, resource referral, psychosocial assessments, case management, and advocacy efforts. Different placements have different populations and thus varying levels of vulnerability. The populations served in these settings can be at risk for COVID-19 among other vulnerable factors; poverty and compounding environmental factors (food insecurity, housing instability, and limited access to resources). 

Challenge: The primary safety challenges associated with these sites include; monitoring the sites for compliance with CDC guidelines, access to PPE if required, but not provided by the agency, and the nature of home visits and patient care, which makes physical distancing difficult. The use of public transportation to travel to and from the sites is also another challenge for students who do not own vehicles. 

Location-specific solution: We will require that students use self-supplied face coverings (if not provided by the site) and follow all safety and physical distancing guidelines set by their field placement sites, including physical distancing, regular hand washing, and hand sanitizing. All practicum students will have the option to fulfill their required practicum field experience through alternative remote based activities if they do not feel comfortable completing field hours in an in-person agency setting.

Community Setting (Nursing)

Context: Correctional and skilled nursing facilities serve vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. These facilities provide access to patient populations that are mandated student experiences by various professional accrediting bodies. However, by their nature, residents in these facilities are at higher risk for novel Coronavirus because of age, presence of multiple chronic conditions and congregate living arrangements (e.g., roommates, group based meals and social activities). Most of these facilities have designated COVID units where suspected and confirmed COVID-19 diagnosed individuals are placed. Students must travel to these sites, often car-pooling or using public transportation. In these instances, students are required to wear masks during transportation to and from the clinical site. Care in these facilities is based on an efficiency model in order to see as many residents in the shortest period of time. 

Challenge: The setting and care model present many challenges for students. Students must avoid COVID-19 units, limiting available clinical experiences. Given the inherent vulnerability of the resident population students must also self-monitor and pay strict attention to use of face masks, face shields (for close contact interactions), 6-foot distancing (for cares not requiring contact with residents) and hand hygiene. Schools/departments/facilities may require documentation of self-monitored COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., daily temperatures). 

Location-specific solution: Masks and face shields will be distributed xxx. Masks can be worn for up to 3 days, face shield for up to 4-months unless soiled or compromised. Students are responsible for storage of masks and face shields in between time at the clinical site. Clinical sites will be responsible for cleaning of congregate areas as well as resident’s rooms.

Community Setting (Direct Student Model)

Context: Many UW students engage in direct service with community centers in Dane County to learn about their course content in the real world (i.e. praxis). 

Challenge: Students may be using Transportation Options to get to the site, including Union Cab or Lyft. Travel risks include viral transmission during transportation. Different placements have different populations and thus varying levels of vulnerability. We recommend using the discretion of the nonprofit organization to assess risk and include any additional protocol. Unique risks include students working closely with people in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Location-specific solution: Safety challenges can be addressed by following the above listed general guidelines will specifically ensuring that:

  • Requiring face masks for students at all times.
  • Rigorous hand hygiene.
  • Encouraging physical distancing when possible.
  • Ensuring that everyone (student and community partners) is compliant with testing and symptom monitoring.
  • Face shields may be appropriate in some situations.

There may also be virtual engagement opportunities available, such as advocacy work, fundraising, social media support, etc. which would decrease the risk of going into the community. These may be supplemented alongside face-to-face interactions. An example of an inappropriate direct service site would be working with elders in close physical proximity.

Agricultural Setting (Vet Med) Farm Visit

Context: Dairy Skills (3 part course) Currently planned to be on-line TEAMS based teaching with 8-10 students and visits to farms 1-2 times per week for targeted instruction. All farms are within a 45 minute drive of Madison. The on-farm live animal instruction cannot be replicated virtually as it involves rectal palpation for reproductive evaluation, live animal scoring for lameness and injury, lung ultrasound and facility and feedstuff evaluation. 

Challenge: Travel risks include viral transmission between students and instructors within vehicles and while on farm. Previously travel to the farms would have 5-10 students with 1-2 instructors in SVM owned/leased vans. 

Location-specific solution: Currently, the students transport themselves directly to the farm and meet the instructors at the location. For students without transport, one instructor per student would be available to transport them. Masks would be worn in the vehicle at all times. All SVM vehicles will be wiped down and disinfected on return. On farm, there would be no close contact with farm personnel and PPE would include clean boots, coveralls and masks at all times ensuring full physical distancing as much as possible. Boot clean up would be done using disinfectant and water transported to the site, ensuring 6 feet physical distancing at all times. Hand sanitizer will be provided for regular use during visit and at clean up.

Community Setting (Pharmacy)

Context: Field placements in community settings range from retail locations, clinic settings, long-term care settings, hospice centers, Indian Health Service, free health clinics, mental health centers, and community care centers. The populations served in these settings can be at risk for COVID-19+ among other vulnerable factors; poverty and compounding environmental factors (food insecurity, housing instability, and limited access to resources). 

Challenge: The primary safety challenges associated with these sites include monitoring the sites for compliance with CDC guidelines, access to PPE if required, but not provided by the site; and the nature of patient care, which makes physical distancing difficult. 

Location-specific solution: We will require that students use self-supplied face coverings (if not provided by the site) and follow all safety and physical distancing guidelines set by their field placement sites, including physical distancing, regular hand washing, and hand sanitizing. All practicum students will have the option to fulfill some of their activities required for practicum field experiences through alternative remote based activities as allowed by accreditation agencies. However students not wanting to participate in on site activities will have the opportunity to delay their field experience to a later date.