A semester of simulation success

For the past 15 years of her teaching career, Diane Dressler, a clinical assistant professor in Marquette University’s College of Nursing, has often relied on low-level equipment and even pictures to teach her students about medical devices like ventilators.

This past semester, Dressler was able to teach her nursing students how to use a ventilator with an actual ventilator thanks to the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare Center for Clinical Simulation.

The 10,000-square-foot center, opened to the Marquette and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare communities this past August, mirrors an authentic health care workplace where students can immerse themselves in a medical environment while engaging in hands-on experiences with cutting edge equipment.

“When you walk into the patient rooms, it looks and feels like a real hospital ICU room,” Dressler said.

The $4 million center, funded by a $1 million gift from Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and donations from university alumni and friends, features six beds in a hospital suite setting with two intensive care rooms, two surgical rooms, a pediatrics rooms and a labor and delivery unit. It also contains two health clinic examination rooms, an assisted living apartment, a clinical skills laboratory, two patient care rooms with four beds each, and four debrief classrooms.

Additional top-notch amenities include high-tech mannequins with life-like capabilities, such as bleeding and perspiring, and a communication device called staff terminals. The call system device is on the wall and has touch pads students can use to practice calling in an emergency or contact other health care providers like pharmacists.

And, thanks to a $440,000 grant funded by GE Healthcare, the center for clinical simulation has a central nursing station, patient monitors, infant incubators and ventilators – all identical to what a nursing student might come across during their clinical experiences or after they graduate and land in a health care position.

This simulated health care facility has a very lasting impact on students, Dressler said, and provides a safe practice area for students to learn from their mistakes.

“Simulation allows them to practice these things in a nonthreatening environment and really brings our students to a level where they’re ready for clinical practice,” Dressler said.

During the course of the fall semester, Dressler led six simulations in her critical care nursing course of 50 students. While about eight students would perform the simulations, the rest of the class stayed in the classroom to observe thanks to video equipment built into the center. Each student had the opportunity to take part in at least one simulation.

During one particular simulation, Dressler’s students worked with mannequins and patient monitors to learn how to react to heart rhythm problems.

She describes a simulation as an unfolding case story.

First, the patient may appear stable and the heart rhythm may appear to be normal on the monitor. Within moments, the monitor will show changes in heart rhythm, the mannequin can vocalize feelings of dizziness and the blood pressure will appear to change.

“And the students have to pick up on that and realize that that’s happening and then they have to decide what to do about it,” Dressler said.

Feedback from students on their semester simulation experience was extremely positive, according to Dressler.

“They said they got a lot out of the simulation,” Dressler said. “It felt real. They said they now felt that they were more competent and much more confident if this kind of situation actually happened to them when they were taking care of a patient in a hospital.”

College of Nursing senior Peter Elliott Nicoloff, who will commission as a Navy nurse when he graduates in May, credits his clinical simulation experiences during his critical care courses for elevating his skills in therapeutic communication.

He now feels more comfortable talking with patients and families, he said.

Students are able to practice talking directly to mannequins during clinical simulations while instructors pose as patients, using a voice box to communicate through a mannequin to a student.

“It teaches you to talk to your patient and teach your patient in the right manner,” Nicoloff said.

Throughout the center’s opening semester, sophomores, junior, seniors, graduate and doctoral students benefitted from simulation experience. Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare staff also took advantage of the simulation equipment. The staff will have at least 200 hours of clinical training at the center each year.

While the simulation equipment, itself, has drawn a lot of public attention, students must still keep the patient as their focal point, said Mary Paquette, simulation technology and learning resource center director.

“We use technology to help (students) focus on the patient and what’s going on with that patient,” Paquette said.

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