How thousands of Italy's nurses were retrained for the ICU

Up-skilling company Generation is rapidly creating online learning programmes for frontline healthcare professionals to care for Covid-19 patients

FILE - In this April 16, 2020 file photo, medical staff tend to a patient in the emergency COVID-19 ward at the San Carlo Hospital in Milan, Italy. As Italy prepares to emerge from the West’s first and most extensive coronavirus lockdown, it is increasingly clear that something went terribly wrong in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region in Europe’s hardest-hit country. By contrast, Lombardy’s front-line doctors and nurses are being hailed as heroes for risking their lives to treat the sick under extraordinary levels of stress, exhaustion, isolation and fear. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, file)
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Many may not have heard of Generation a few months back. But that's rapidly changing as the world's biggest up-skilling company by volume, quickly rolled out an e-learning program to retrain Italian nurses dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic that killed nearly 27,000 people in the country.

Within just a few weeks, six per cent of Italy’s nurses were retrained to care for patients in intensive care units by the company that, prior to the pandemic, focused on up-skilling workers for the new digital economy and other in-demand jobs.

Today, the Washington DC-based nonprofit is rapidly creating accredited online learning programmes for healthcare professionals to care for Covid-19 patients, with the first in Italy, followed by Mexico and India, and five more in the pipeline.

"Our asset is developing activity-based learning such that the learner very quickly gains the insight and mastery that they need to do the task well," Mona Mourshed, president and chief executive of Generation, told The National. "We had a view towards the skills that an ICU nurse has, that those now have to be the skills nurses across the entire system need to have."

The pandemic has infected more than 3 million people and claimed over 211,000 lives, according to Johns Hopkins University. It is also set to wipe out 6.7 per cent of working hours worldwide, the equivalent of 195 million jobs, according to the United Nations.

"We believe we can be helpful to understanding what jobs are in demand amid Covid-19, what are the segment of learners who are now unemployed who we can help to meet new job needs,"  Ms Mourshed said.

Generation is the largest global employment programme based on the annual number of people it trains and places with employment partners. In five years, it graduated more than 37,000 for a wide range of in-demand jobs like home health aids, retrained retail workers, data analysts and robotic automation developers. It is in the process of establishing public and private partnerships in the UAE, its 14th country, with plans to roll out programmes when restrictions ease.

But Covid-19 demanded Generation rethink its offerings. Within two weeks, it designed and produced - through several key partnerships - 8 hours of online content on the three most critical learning components for nurses: personal protective equipment (PPE) use, non-invasive ventilation and stress management under emergency conditions. Italy, where Generation was already running programmes, was an epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, and a natural first choice for the platform.

One of the country’s largest private hospital groups, Grupo San Donato, provided the medical expertise that informed the content, as well as the clinicians who are featured in the brief online instructional videos. A camera crew, through a media partnership with Sky Italia, captured it. The national accreditation body linked to Italy’s Ministry of Health accredited the platform that hosts the online course and provided nurses with continuing education credit upon completion.

Two weeks since launching the programme, 28,000 nurses in Italy have taken the online course, with 71 per cent successfully completing it and passing the accredited assessment.

“Speed does not have to be the enemy of the good, or the enemy of quality or relevance,” Ms Mourshed said. “Speed here is critical given the nature of Covid-19.”