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Nursing Laboratory Helps Students Get ‘Real’ Training

It’s often said there’s no substitute for real-world experience. Those in the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science couldn’t agree more, which is why such thinking is an integral part of the school’s curriculum.

Since 2002, USD’s nursing students have utilized the Simulation and Standardized Patient Nursing Laboratory, an on-campus space that provides them with the tools and situations necessary to practice, learn from and get feedback. In 2004, the lab began using mannequins and—in a Southern California nursing school first—standardized patients, otherwise known as “actors.” Using actual scripted patient cases in testing provides pre-licensure students and others with that real-life experience.

“The simulation lab can mimic and simulate activities that are done in a hospital that has all the bells and whistles and we can recreate a scenario, whatever it may be, in our lab,” said Karen Macauley, director of the lab and a clinical professor at USD. “Instead of just learning a task, students have to critically think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Having the standardized patients has helped our nursing students really think about their interaction with a real patient.”

The 4,400 square-foot lab located at the west end of campus has beds, examining rooms, monitors and specialized equipment such as a trauma center, birthing area and nursing station. Students learn a wide range of critical skills, accounting for as much as 25 percent of their clinical training hours. Video cameras, microphones and digital recorders are installed discreetly in the simulation rooms enabling WebSP, a data management system, to record simulations and let professors and students see and critique the work being done. Students are then able to effectively learn from their mistakes.

Spaces for students to practice such as the lab could not have been made possible without the generous help of outside grants and support. In July, the School of Nursing received a $40,000 grant presented by San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts in support of the simulation lab. Another gift was made in August for $1.2 million from the Department of Health and Human Services under a program that distributed $23.5 million to universities nationwide to help ease the nation’s nurse shortage by increasing the number of nursing instructors.

Now, more than 300 students use the simulation lab each week — ranging from the Master’s Entry Nursing Program (MEPN) to advanced practice nurses to PhD candidates — and local hospitals, academic institutions and the military have inquired about using it for skills training purposes.

“The Navy asked us to develop curriculum for a psychiatric and mental health clinical nurse specialist (CNS) program to aid and care for veterans with post-dramatic stress disorder, head injuries and other psychiatric problems they’ve seen,” Macauley said. “We’re starting in the fall. We’ll be training primary care providers who’ll specialize in mental health.”

It doesn’t get any more real than that.

— Ryan T. Blystone


"The simulation lab can mimic and simulate activities that are done in a hospital that has all the bells and whistles and we can recreate a scenario, whatever it may be, in our lab." - Clinical Professor Karen Macauley, School of Nursing

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