Simulated patients help nursing students hone their skills

Virtualization and simulation is the future of health care education, according to Kathy VanEerden, dean of health sciences at Moraine Park Technical College.

Thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, nursing students at all three of Moraine Park Technical College’s campuses can get real world, hands on experience in the school’s state-of-the-art Nursing Simulation Center, located on the West Bend campus.

“The grant was really multi-faceted and helped us complete a number of different projects to improve health care education in the area at all levels,” VanEerden said. “The Simulation Center provides an opportunity for our students to get additional training and enhance the quality of experience they receive before entering the field professionally after graduation.”

The center is equipped with four simulator “patients” that accurately mimic real-world characteristics, symptoms and reactions of typical patients in clinic environments, VanEerden said.

Sandra Kirchner was hired to manage the Nursing Simulation Center at the college. She has led more than 1,000 students through simulated clinic environments so far.

“The technology behind these simulators is outstanding,” Kirchner said. “We have the ability to write our own patient situations, but we typically use pre-programmed situations developed using best practices data and case studies.”

The simulators respond and react to the treatments they receive from the nursing students, Kirchner said.

“The students are instructed to interact with the simulators as if they were real patients,” Kirchner said. “We put them through a variety of situations and have the students react accordingly. Much like they would if they were in a traditional clinical setting.”

Moraine Park has an adult patient simulator, a pediatric simulator, which can be both male or female patients, and an expecting mother simulator, which is used to simulate a variety of birthing situations. The fourth simulator is an infant simulator that is used once the expecting mother has delivered.

“It’s really invaluable experience,” VanEerden said. “We’ve had numerous instances where one of our students will experience something in the simulation lab and then encounter a similar situation in their clinical setting. The students seem to be much more prepared.”

According to VanEerden, The Simulation Center has been integrated directly into the curriculum at the school. Students spend varying amounts of class time inside the lab during each semester and can also elect to take additional workshops.

“The curriculum was developed using input from clinical experts and long term care nurses,” VanEerden said. “We looked at the areas where our students could improve and then collaborated with clinical professionals on what students should expect to encounter. The simulation lab is infused all across the two years the students are in the program.”

Throughout their education students are introduced to medical situations including asthma treatment, diabetes, alcohol withdrawal, regular pregnancy, complicated pregnancies, medicine reactions, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney disease, end of life situations and others.

The simulators are very life-like, Kirchner said.

“They have a pulse. You can test their circulation. They are able to sweat and omit bodily fluids and we can even simulate convulsions, abnormal breathing and pupil dilation,” Kirchner said.

The simulators are operated by a control room, where Kirchner can speak for the simulators based on the questions the nursing students ask, she said.

“We can use pre-recorded messages or I can speak directly through the microphone,” she said. “The simulation is nice because we can program the ‘patient’ to react based off the way the students provide treatment.”

Lab sessions can be recorded right onto a DVD that can be used during the instructor’s debriefing, VanEerden said.

“They have the ability to immediately go back through and discuss what went well and other areas they can improve on,” VanEerden said. “It’s incredible technology.”

While VanEerden can’t directly attribute the school’s improvement to simulation, the number of students passing their exams has increased over the last few semesters, she said.

Simulation is starting to become more and more popular, Waukesha County Technical College has a similar setup for its students and simulators are used in various ways at other educational institutions in the area as well, VanEerden said.

“It’s the way of the future, definitely,” she said. “I think it’s the seamless integration with our curriculum that makes Moraine Park particularly unique.”

VanEerden said she hopes to form partnerships with medical institutions in the region so professional staff can use the Nursing Simulation Center for professional development and refresh training.

“The important thing is that we can help advance the quality of care and safety in our health care institutions,” she said. “The more qualified our students are when they actually enter the workforce the better, and if we can help clinical professionals with their professional development that’s good too. This technology is amazing.”

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