A (Sur)real Learning Environment
The new School of Nursing advanced-simulation lab feels like a real hospital.
Walking into the Idaho State University Kasiska College of Health Professions School of Nursing advanced clinical simulation laboratory feels a lot like simultaneously walking into a real hospital and the “Twilight Zone.”
It’s the simulation dummies that create the greatest “Twilight Zone” effect. These dummies can talk in English or Spanish. Students can take their blood pressure and vital signs or draw blood from them. These “SIMs,” as they are called, include a man, a woman, a baby and a woman who gives birth to a baby with an attached umbilical cord. These dummies are sophisticated machines that can cry, choke, moan with pain, breath, turn blue in the lips or pass gas.
The SIMs make their home in a new lab that opened spring semester 2009 in the lower level of the ISU Nursing Building. It features a nursing station and six clinical examination rooms equipped with hospital beds, blood pressure cuffs and other equipment for taking vital signs and serving patients. The faux hospital rooms are equipped well enough that, in a real emergency, they could be used as a clinical care center for real patients.
This realism and the context these SIMs and the lab provide gives ISU nursing students an advantage in learning and entering the workforce.
“I think it is great to work with SIM man,” said Melinda Cox, a sophomore in the ISU Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. “You never know what you’ll get – he may go code on you or he may be fine. It is always a thrill to work on him because you don’t know what to expect.”
John Meyers, another BSN sophomore, remarked on the realism of the new laboratory on a broader scale.
“They have it set up like an actual nursing station and hospital rooms, exactly like in real life,” Meyers said. “That realism adds a different learning dimension to our program. When we enter the workforce, the transition will be from one hospital setting to the next, not from a classroom to a hospital setting.”
There is no other nurse teaching facility like it in Idaho and few like it in the West. The realism of the examination rooms, the artificial dummies or the actors who role-play different illnesses, however, are not the heart and soul of this operation.
“Ours is a top-of-the-line laboratory and is one of the top laboratories in the region — not just in terms of brick and mortar, but in terms of the kind of instruction, research and evaluation we can offer,” said Dr. Carol Ashton, associate dean and director of the Idaho State University School of Nursing. “The most important aspect of the simulation laboratory is the learning pedagogy that goes with the technology. Our lab provides students with a much deeper clinical learning besides the episodic learning we’ve had in the past.”
For example, students who are engaged in a clinical practicum at a real hospital are not guaranteed to see or treat a specific illness or health condition. In the simulation laboratory, however, instructors can design scenarios that will teach students about specific problems they will encounter.
Every examination room is next to an observation room equipped with one-way windows allowing instructors to observe and critique students. This allows students to practice without faculty in the exam room, creating a more normal patient-nurse interaction.
As soon as fall semester 2009, these observation rooms will be equipped with digital audiovisual recording equipment and connectivity to ISU Telehealth and Telemedicine network, which uses electronic communications and information technologies to provide or support long-distance clinical care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration throughout the state and region.
“The other piece of our infrastructure will be our connectivity, which will allow us to offer new models of clinical learning and clinical research,” Ashton said.
Students can be filmed in an exam room, then watch their own session and critique themselves. Or, students can watch how their peers responded to the same clinical situation. Instructors could also create instructional scenarios of specific treatments or techniques, and then broadcast the session to practitioners in rural hospitals.
What these students learn from SIMs and a realistic laboratory translates into real benefits in the real world, and that is something each of their future patients will appreciate.