Stricken with a variety of ailments, four patients lie in hospital beds. Ranging in ages from newborn to elderly, these patients are awaiting crucial care from nurses. Time, attentiveness, and managing the conditions with a cool head are critical.
Think this is a scene from a TV medical drama? Think again. It’s part of the Husson University School of Nursing’s “Sim Lab”, a fertile training ground for helping nursing students prepare for real world patients.
The lab, its equipment, and the KbPort wireless simulation data management system were funded by a $285,814 HRSA grant provided to Husson by the Department of Human Services. According to College of Health and Education Dean Barbara Higgins, the lab’s “state-of-the-art technology” enables students to work in a real world environment before they begin clinicals and work with real patients.
In fact, Coordinator of the Nursing Simulation Lab Valerie Herbert said this technology has been at Husson for about six years, but the grant coupled with new purchases has enabled students to be highly proficient and hone their problem solving skills before hitting the real world.
Lab provides hands-on learning experience
The lab, located in the School of Nursing in O’Donnell Commons, looks just like any medical ward. Hospital “patients” are hooked up to monitors, IVs, and other medical diagnostic supplies. Each “sim person” can be remotely controlled by the instructor while the student practices technical nursing skills, including talking to the patient.
For instance, Herbert said, if a student is supposed to give the “patient” an injection, the student needs to treat the sim person just like a real patient and explain what is being doing. If this does not happen, the sim person can be programmed to react to the student.
“This lab is really a complex learning environment,” Herbert said. “It does a couple of different things. First, it helps bridge the student from classroom to taking care of a ‘real patient’. The healthcare environment is extremely complex, moving at a very quick pace. For a student stepping straight into the real thing, it can be intimidating and overwhelming. Second, the lab helps improve patient safety.”
The Sim Lab utilizes the high-tech mannequins as the patients. However, their “conditions and symptoms” are controlled through the wireless simulation data-management system. From a control booth in the rear of the lab, educators cannot only program what will happen as the nursing student works on the sim person, but they can literally have a birds-eye view of the student as he or she works.
“We can create a similar experience for all students,” Herbert said. This is never possible in the real clinical world.
According to Herbert, that ability is imperative to training nurses for the working world.
“For example, the minute a nursing student becomes an RN, they are expected to care for patients with cardiac events,” Herbert said. “They are expected to know exactly what to do. The same goes for dealing with death and dying. Not all of them have experience with .those situations in clinicals, so we provide them in the simulation labs”
“We can slow down the experience to help with the learning process,” she said. “We really work to meet the learner where they are and build their abilities. This lab allows us to engage more with the students and develop real life case studies.”
All of the knowledge for the Sim Lab begins in the classroom for nursing students, Herbert said. Based upon what students are learning at the time, appropriate simulations are designed.
“At Husson, we look at where student needs and gaps are and then work with faculty to develop the most appropriate simulation,” she said. “We gradually increase the intensity as students progress through the nursing program.”
An inter-disciplinary approach to learning
In fact, Husson University was one of the first universities north of southern Maine to institute the nursing simulation lab into its offerings. “It’s a complimentary teaching strategy, blended with classroom and clinical experiences” Herbert said. “Husson was a leader in developing this.”
Each student who attends Husson’s School of Nursing will rotate into the Sim Lab. And, Herbert said, students are required to sign a contract that says they’ll suspend reality when working in the lab.
“We tell students to treat the simulation as a real clinical day and mistakes are learning opportunities in this lab,” Herbert said. “This is a safe environment to learn.”
But it’s not just general nursing care that students gain experience through the Sim Lab. All kinds of medical scenarios are presented to the students, including a heart attack, flesh wounds, pediatric medical scenarios, death and dying, and childbirth and its complications.
A table in the center of the Sim Lab allows other nursing students to observe their classmates in real time on screen through a camera and audio system. Feedback is given from the instructors watching from the control room. And the participating student has the opportunity to watch his/her performance recorded on video to critique what was done well and what can be done better.
“The value is as much in the evaluation component as the actual carrying out of patient care,” Higgins said.
In other developments this spring, Herbert said, nursing students are gaining essential experience in electronic record keeping and barcode medication administration, while caring for their simulated patients.. In addition, nursing students will also gain experience with scenarios with other schools, including students from the criminal justice program in an altercation in the simulated ER
“The same process on the clinical side is being done on the education side to prepare students to care for patients with these new technologies used with real patients” Herbert said.
Husson’s College of Health & Education is now looking to expand these nursing experiences for students into healthcare team simulations, much like what occurs in the clinical setting. Rarely does a nurse care for patients in isolation, but requires working as a team. Creating opportunities for our students to perform while working in these teams is vital for the healthcare setting.