Real-world Treatment

Learning complex information and procedures is difficult enough, but when someone’s health or life is on the line, it can be stressful and scary. Preparing to treat patients in a hospital setting easily falls under this category.

However, a new virtual hospital that opened this spring at UNG’s Gainesville Campus gives nursing students the opportunity to develop critical abilities and confidence before and during their clinical work. In an environment designed to physically emulate a hospital as much as possible, the students are training and honing their skills on patients who can talk, breathe, sweat, bleed, and many other human actions.

Only they aren’t human.

They are high-fidelity manikins, the centerpieces of UNG’s Simulation Labs — spaces that can be used to simulate a wide variety of healthcare scenarios and emergencies to help students learn the skills they will need when they transition into their careers. Nursing faculty stress the importance of providing an environment where students can safely make — and learn from — mistakes.

“As our students enter their medical careers and find themselves in situations where they need to quickly perform a task or recall information, we want to ensure they have the confidence and ability to do so every time,” said Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of UNG’s College of Health Sciences & Professions. “These labs help us do exactly that by creating lifelike scenarios that students will be able to draw from throughout their professional lives.”

Nursing students are engaged in simulation lab learning on UNG’s Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. The university’s four-year nursing program recently expanded to the Gainesville Campus, and the first cohort for Gainesville began in January 2016.

“Our students attend simulation as an active learning experience,” said Katie Parrish, director of simulation. “They are given pre-simulation assignments to help them prepare, then they enter the simulation and perform team-based care in roles such as primary nurse, medication nurse, documenter, family member or others. Later, students are given an evaluation which is discussed in debriefing, and students constructively critique and self-evaluate their performances.”

Tiffanie Daily, a junior in UNG’s Bachelor of Science (BSN) in nursing program, said the sim lab is an experience like no other in the hands-on training it offers.

“It can be nerve-wracking to pick up these skills during clinical hours, but when you are in sim you get to work with a team assigned to one patient,” Daily said. “Our instructors can even conduct simulations where something goes wrong and we have to figure it out. I was able to give my first IV injection in sim; it’s so nice to have those experiences before moving into coached clinicals on hospital grounds.”

Megan Day, also a BSN-track junior, said the half-dozen weeks she spent in the lab before beginning clinicals removed a great deal of pressure and gave her greater confidence.

“It really has helped me grow, because when you’re learning out of a textbook you’re not really applying the information, and having a place to safely make mistakes takes a lot of stress off,” Day said. “Also, having patient (manikin) and professor feedback while learning is invaluable. It especially helped me feel more confident in some delicate procedures before going into the hospital setting, such as placing a catheter.”

According to a study from the Georgia Nurses Association in 2014, the national nursing shortage is projected to grow to 260,000 registered nurses by 2025. Georgia’s nursing shortage would, without effective action, reach 50,000 by 2020. Also, hospitals are hiring more BSN and MSN-educated nurses, rather than licensed practical nurses, in response to evidence of higher-quality care from those with advanced degrees.

Amidst the rising need for more nurses — including more nurses with advanced degrees — UNG expanded its BSN program to the Gainesville Campus, and the initial cohort will graduate in fall 2017. The program will add some 50 nurses to the workforce each year, and the goal is to eventually match the 120 graduates produced from UNG’s Dahlonega Campus each year.

Graduates of UNG’s nursing program regularly have among the highest pass rates in the state on the national licensure exam. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents will soon initiate a study to assess predictions and future need for nurses in Georgia, which Dr. Kim Hudson-Gallogly, head of UNG’s Department of Nursing, said may guide the department in planning for future growth.

Classroom shots of the Nursing Professor going over the syllabus with nursing students.
Nursing students in the classroom.