Community colleges train critical heroes

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerCochise College leaders, faculty and staff have spent the last three or four weeks operating in a fashion none of us would ever have predicted. Among all of the noise, one fact has been impossible to ignore. Community colleges are, literally, good for your health and, sometimes, deemed essential! Some of the most critical jobs needed at a time of crisis are those filled by individuals trained at your local community college. How would those positions be filled if the colleges were closed? Thanks to various cooperative efforts, we don’t need to worry about that.

While classes that can continue in an online format are doing just that, Cochise College received an exemption from the governor’s office to the “stay home, stay safe, stay connected” order for three programs to continue in a limited, safe, face-to-face format. Why? Because the students/trainees in these programs are needed, right now, to assist with or backfill in roles that are critical to the worldwide effort to manage COVID-19.

The current crisis provides a living laboratory in which soon-to-be EMT and paramedic graduates are practicing recommended illness prevention techniques while also working their way through the normal curriculum. Their assistance is needed on the front lines immediately, as health facilities manage their patient loads and scheduling differently, all while 911 calls continue.

Closely related, the current fire science class is continuing and expects to take its state exams early in May. A gap in the availability of these first responders could tax the system, affecting residents in a time of great need.

The third Southeast Arizona Law Enforcement Academy class is continuing in Sierra Vista, with completion anticipated in early May. Students in the class are all sponsored by county law enforcement agencies. These individuals, too, will be responding to the needs of local residents very soon.

Coronavirus also threatened to derail the plans of many nursing students nearing the end of the registered nurse and licensed practical nurse programs. Being just two months away from the end of a rigorous program, those students are eager to get to the front lines. The hospitals and healthcare facilities that provide important clinical and preceptorship learning opportunities rightly moved to an essential personnel only scenario, leaving students short in their clinical hours. Thankfully, Cochise College was able to work with the Arizona State Board of Nursing to allow the college to substitute virtual simulation labs so those students can continue through the end of their programs, take certification exams, and do what they’re trained to do – take care of patients like you and me.

Meanwhile, the college is coordinating with the county’s health and emergency services departments to provide space at the Douglas Campus to house first responders and other healthcare providers who cannot live at home due to the virus. Similarly, the Sierra Vista Downtown Center is being planned as a hospital overflow should the demand become necessary. Both of these facilities are resources available to the county and its citizens in a time of emergency.

The nation’s first responders and healthcare professionals are heroes, and demand for them is likely to increase in the coming months. These students are excited to graduate and go right to work at a time when they are critically needed. Cochise College is proud to be home to the programs that train individuals for these careers that are vital to the endurance of our way of life.

J.D. ROTTWEILER, Ph.D., is president of Cochise College. Contact him at