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Nursing students gain experience in high tech labs and hospital settings

ISSUED: 12 May 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — When Shepherd University nursing education graduates enter the workforce, they are armed with plenty of theoretical knowledge and practical experience—thanks to time spent in high-tech laboratories on Shepherd’s campus and in area hospitals working alongside professional nurses serving as preceptors.

Nursing students have the opportunity to test their skills in several laboratories featuring 14 mannequin-like devices called patient simulators that mimic real-world medical conditions. There are three types of patient simulators—low fidelity, moderate fidelity, and high fidelity.

Robin Hill, clinical skills and simulation lab coordinator/clinical lecturer, said low fidelity patient simulators are static and are used to practice things like wound care, bathing, dressing, and mobility. Moderate fidelity patient simulators are somewhat responsive and give students the opportunity to check for vital signs and practice procedures like ostomy care, tube care, and needle insertion. Hill said the high fidelity patient simulators are the most lifelike.

“They can blink, they can talk, they have vital signs that you can change, they have bowel sounds, heart sounds, lung sounds, and pulses,” Hill said. “The only thing they don’t have that a human would have is reflexes. You can’t look in their ear and see a tympanic membrane or look in their eye and see an optic disc.”

Hill said Shepherd’s nursing program is a cut above most because it offers students the opportunity to practice on 14 patient simulators. The collection includes six in the acute care lab, two in the critical care lab, two in the maternal child lab that will give birth, a pediatric lab with a newborn patient simulator, and a SimMan 3G patient simulator, nicknamed George, which Hill said is the highest fidelity, computer-controlled patient simulator made by the company Laerdal.

“He can pretty much do anything,” Hill said. “He talks, blinks, sweats, and throws up.”

George came with five medical scenarios built in. Hill took suggestions from the entire nursing faculty and has developed 14 more scenarios that can be used with the patient simulators or actors. Mental health labs use a student or faculty actor. Hill created a manual so other instructors can run the patient simulator labs.

Beginning nursing students start out using the low fidelity patient simulators, and as they go through the higher-level courses, they gain experience with the more technically advanced patient simulators.

“After students learn about information in their classes they can come into the lab and practice on the patient simulators,” Hill said. “I feel that it is a learning tool for students and it gives them the confidence they need to go out into the workforce. I’ve heard from the students over the years how scared they are when they go into the clinicals for the first time because they don’t want to hurt somebody. This gives them a little bit of practice prior to going into the clinical setting.”

Shepherd’s nursing program requires a total of 610 clinical hours over four semesters. Everything nursing education students do in classes and in the labs working with the patient simulators is designed to prepare them for the last semester of their senior year when they must take a capstone class requiring 120 hours working with a preceptor in a hospital.

“These 120 clinical hours that are spent arm-to-arm with a B.S.N.-experienced registered nurse gives the senior level nursing student an opportunity to explore what we consider ‘real nursing,’ and an opportunity to perhaps experience or think about where they’d like to work,” said Dr. Charlotte Anderson, professor emerita of nursing education and coordinator of the capstone class.

The students work at Berkeley Medical Center and Jefferson Medical Center; Frederick Memorial Hospital and Meritus Medical Center in Maryland; or Winchester Medical Center in Virginia. They are teamed with preceptors in various areas, such as adult medical-surgical, intensive care, and telemetry units. Anderson said most students work 12-hour shifts just as they will when they get a job after graduation.

“Nursing is an art and a science, it’s not just in books, it’s also hands-on at the bedside, taking care of the patient,” Anderson said. “In their final semester, the capstone class is a culminating experience that gives students the opportunity to have direct access and take care of patients.”

Anderson said working in hospitals alongside preceptors allows nursing students to fine-tune their skills and their theoretical foundation so they are better prepared for the national licensure exam they’re required to take to become a professional registered nurse.

While doing their capstone, the students are also required to work on a quality improvement project that benefits the hospital in conjunction with the leadership course they must take in their final semester. Topics might include improving infection control protocols, providing continuity of care, safely transferring responsibility for care, and improving compliance with information technology.

“They are doing something that the floor they’re assigned to really needs and it’s a way to give back to the hospital,” Anderson said. “The nursing student collaborates and works with the staff to find ways to improve quality on that floor and gives a report to staff.”

Anderson said the hospital staff has given excellent feedback on the quality improvement work students have done, and students can put the experience on their résumé.

Courtney Lewis, of Bunker Hill, and Henry Jones of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, both completed their capstone class at Winchester Medical Center’s ICU, and Amanda Feagans of Olney, Maryland, worked at Meritus Medical Center’s critical care unit,

Lewis, whose quality improvement project focuses on mouth care for patients who are on ventilators, said working with a preceptor has given her a good idea of what she’ll face when she becomes a nurse.

“It has helped me realize I can handle being a nurse,” Lewis said. “It’s taught me that I am confident in being able to talk with patients about their disease processes, communicating with families, and talking with physicians.”

“I feel it’s the most valuable clinical experience we get here because you have one-on-one training with an expert who is working fulltime and is at the top of his or her game clinically,” Jones said. “You get those little gems, those little pearls of wisdom in clinical practice that are invaluable.”

Henry completed a quality improvement project on how moving patients who are staying in the ICU helps them heal more quickly.

Feagans, worked on a quality improvement project on sleep problems in noisy ICU units, said the experience working in the hospital was invaluable.

“This capstone gives you real life experience,” Feagans said. “This isn’t a test or a quiz, this is real life, a real patient, a real human being. You get to apply your critical thinking and clinical reasoning and it gives you a perspective that you didn’t have before.”

Listen to the interview HERE.

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