Jennifer Clayton: 'Never been a better time to learn'

Jennifer Clayton's portrait photoJennifer Clayton wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but the current global pandemic actually turned out to be a great real-world lesson for her Diagnostic Imaging Program students.

Clayton, who directs the program, has been with Linn-Benton Community College for six years. She was an LBCC graduate herself who went on to work in the medical industry before being invited back to the college by the former diagnostic imaging director.

“I had a really wonderful experience in the program, and I loved imaging, so I really liked the idea of coming back to the school and giving back to the program, and helping other students be successful in a profession that has a ton of opportunities,” she said. “I also felt like I could connect with students as well, having gone through that experience.” 

Of course, neither Clayton nor her students had ever experienced anything like a national shutdown to avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus. However, it’s been good training for joining the medical profession.

“We just had to adapt,” she said. “We’re always talking to our students about adaptability. We had to adapt their education.”

The shutdown was especially challenging because all the clinical sites stopped taking students, so Clayton couldn’t send anyone anywhere for on-site training. But she and the other faculty members at LBCC worked out interactive lessons, such as simulation exams that asked students to record themselves walking through the process of explaining a procedure to a patient, to be as real-world as possible.

College officials also found that students who could no longer come to campus for classes sometimes struggled with having internet connections strong enough to support online learning. The solution: facilitate hotspots via the LBCC library.

With the hotspots established, students were better able to use Zoom and other internet connection programs to have virtual study sessions. Those are a must in Diagnostic Imaging, Clayton said.

“We have students who drive to our campus from Coos Bay, or Bend, or Grants Pass. If they have a gap in their labs, they need to use that time to study,” she said. “So that’s a solution that seems to be working.”

The accreditation standards of the program didn’t change, pandemic or no pandemic, Clayton added. The students still had a certain number of X-ray exams to complete, in spite of having less time.

Students were able to return to the lab in limited capacities this fall. Faculty members worked to offer extra sessions of lab in order to accommodate smaller groups of students. 

“We are grateful to have the lab open and accessible although it's in a limited capacity,” Clayton said. “The lab is essential in preparing our students to serve patients directly starting spring term.”

That, too, is just like the real-world medical community - things will change, and change quickly, and it’s important to be able to just roll with whatever happens.

“Really, there’s never been a better time to learn,” Clayton said. “It’s been a really good learning process; a lot about infection prevention, how to take care of yourselves and patients, and really understanding procedures and following them. There’s never been a greater emphasis on being thorough with your work and not cutting corners. It’s a learning opportunity you couldn’t replicate.”

The best part of working with students, on or off-campus, Clayton said, is being there as their lives develop. She sees them progress from students to technologists, take on leadership roles, find jobs - and then gets to hear from them, sometimes years later, as they share their excitement about new opportunities or ask her advice about the next steps.

"I think the job itself is really rewarding because students go on to establish themselves in a career which leads to a lot of opportunities for their livelihood,” she said. “We're giving them the tools to have that independence, and just helping them with their education so they can get a foundation to build their career."