CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – It’s the start of a new shift, and just like at any other hospital, the nursing students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are handling patients with a multitude of health conditions. From cardiac arrests to prepping patients for surgery, students at the Islander Regional Hospital get hands-on learning experiences that can only be described as “intense and immersive.” What makes this experience so unique is that the patients are highly sophisticated computerized mannequins and are a part of a learning simulation devised by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi College of Nursing and Health Science faculty who want their graduates to be better prepared for the future.
“It takes five to ten years to become proficient as a nurse,” said Susan Greathouse, MSN, RN and Clinical Assistant Professor in the CONHS. “With our simulations, we think about how we can help our nursing students bridge the gap between nursing school and the reality of practicing safely.”
Julie Fomenko, MSN, RN and Clinical Assistant Professor in the CONHS and Greathouse both use the phrase “intensive learning experience,” to describe what it’s like to go through a two and a half hour multi-patient nursing simulation. Funded in 2016 by a $150,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board, these simulations are part of the capstone courses for senior nursing students. This first grant led to the development of a Simulated Acute Care Hospital Environment within Island Hall called, “Islander Regional Hospital.”
“Simulation is the cutting edge of nursing education, with the creative interprofessional scenarios that Ms. Fomenko and Greathouse have created, students practice real-life situations in safe environments,” said Dr. Mary Jane Hamilton, Dean of the CONHS. “The feedback from employing agencies has reinforced that the graduates are better prepared to deliver competent nursing care and work with interprofessional teams.”
Thanks to a second grant of nearly $200,000 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Fomenko and Greathouse will now be able to expand the simulation experience to first and second-semester nursing students. The grant will allow the Island University to add another “wing” to the hospital, which will feature ten new beds, new blood pressure machines, IV pumps, computers on wheels and a second medical administration computer system. With the addition of nearly $60,000 in new equipment, CONHS nursing students will now be better prepared as they transition to practice as new graduate nurses.
“Nursing education has grown so much,” said Fomenko. “When I was in nursing school we had 30 students in a class. Now we have 120 students in a class so managing four times the number of students in a town that has two hospital systems can be challenging.”
One of the goals of the new grant is to substitute traditional face-to-face clinical hours at a hospital for simulation hours in the classroom as a way to alleviate the shortage of clinical spaces available in the Coastal Bend community. By increasing simulation hours students can maximize the learning that takes place in both the hospital setting as well as the simulated hospital on campus.
“To ensure the quality of our students’ educational experience, we can orchestrate the scenarios we need them to be able to identify and recognize,” said Greathouse. “We also make sure that what we do is relevant. We teach our students how to do the needed skill but make them do it in context and then have them take a step back and analyze how they feel about what they learned.”
Another way the grant will affect the CONHS is by allowing many of the faculty to become a Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator. Fomenko and Greathouse, who are always creating new simulation scenarios, believe the certification will increase faculty theoretical knowledge and help them stay up to date with the advancing simulation and nursing education technology.
“We spent a good three months writing simulation scenarios, but it is an ongoing process,” said Fomenko. “We keep up with current research and when there is a change in current practice or technology we make sure to incorporate it into the simulation.”
Telemedicine is another aspect of the nursing simulations that students can now experience. This new technology allows healthcare providers to practice in Corpus Christi even if they are in a different city. In addition to incorporating the mannequins and the electronic health record software, Fomenko and Greathouse are working on adding mobile robots to the program as part of the telemedicine movement. The mobile robots will be used to explore telemedicine possibilities by allowing online nursing students or even an Island University nurse practitioner student be a part of a CONHS simulation.
“We would love to use this for our E-line and E-Military students who are learning at a distance,” said Greathouse. “We could also use this for our graduate students who are part of the DNP program.”
When asked why Greathouse and Fomenko work so hard on the simulation curriculum they both say it’s the impact they have on patients through their students.
“There is something that is truly gratifying about watching those ‘light bulb moments’ happen,” explained Fomenko. “As an educator that is what you are shooting for, you want to see your students grasp a concept or idea and run with it.”
It is safe to say that Island University nursing students begin the program unsure about their abilities but will leave the program with a new sense of confidence. The growth in confidence that the students experience and the growth in the program is all thanks to Greathouse and Fomenko who have overseen the Islander Regional Hospital since January 2015.
“There are not many schools that do this because they may not be as crazy as us,” joked Greathouse. “But when you talk about internally motivating students – that is what we do. If you lecture, they may or may not take in what you have said, but with our simulations, they are active and in the moment.”