LATROBE, PA – A new simulation lab in the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion is providing students enrolled in the Saint Vincent College/Carlow University collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program with valuable hands-on experience.
Housed in the James F. Will Engineering and Biomedical Sciences Hall, the new lab features modern, high-tech equipment, aimed at mirroring a real-life clinical care setting.
Carla Tomas, coordinator of the Saint Vincent College/Carlow University BSN program, explained that it is imperative that nursing students receive the extensive learning experiences provided by the simulation lab.
“If you want to have the highest-quality educational experience,” she said, “you have to have a lab where students can engage in simulated practice before they interact with patients. Evidence supports that the combination of simulation labs and clinical practice provides the optimal learning experience. It also facilitates their transition to success as a nurse.”
Equipment in the new lab replicates the clinical experiences, including a skills lab and simulation center equipped with patient beds, mannequins, large LED screens and a centrally located station complete with a computer, speakers and HD cameras to observe and record procedures. Students and faculty then use a debriefing room in which they watch recorded simulations, review patient outcomes and discuss their simulation experience.
The equipment they use for practice is authentic, such as a medication cart – known as a computer on wheels – used for the administration of medicine and telemedicine diagnostics. Students use the equipment to refine their skills and the high-fidelity simulations to integrate the skills into complex patient situations.
Dr. Danielle Curran, DNP, MSN, RN, the director of both the Saint Vincent Lab and Carlow’s College of Health and Wellness Labs, emphasized the importance of hands-on simulation training, pointing to a recent study conducted by the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning that reported students who received greater than 30 percent of simulation training in school have better patient outcomes upon launching their nursing careers.
“In simulation, students are always waiting for something to happen or change in their patient’s condition,” said Curran. “It is crucial for students to experience this in what can be called a non-threatening environment while still being held accountable. In the simulation, if they’re nervous or do not know how to do a certain skill, they can take a time out. Mistakes are made in the lab so they are not made in the actual clinical settings.”
The lab in the Dupré Pavilion was designed to mirror Carlow University’s College of Health and Wellness Lab on its Oakland campus, assuring that students at Saint Vincent receive the same resources as those available to all Carlow BSN students. Tomas, Curran and simulation operations specialist Bill Ferchak worked hand-in-hand with Saint Vincent’s administration and Information Technology Department to ensure the new lab would meet the requirements of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the accreditation standards of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
“When we were drawing up plans for the lab,” said Tomas, “which changed multiple times, I had to have architectural drawings and drafts ready and available for inspection from the state board and others. Bill and Dr. Curran came to campus multiple times a week throughout the summer to share their expertise and facilitate the planning and development of the lab. We worked very closely together to have the highest quality experiential learning experiences available at SVC.”
Ferchak oversees all simulation technology of both Carlow’s College of Health and Wellness Lab and the Saint Vincent Lab, essentially onsite and on-call to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“I interpret new technology for our faculty and students, and explain the needs of faculty and students for the IT department. It’s essential that everything works,” he said. “I was at Saint Vincent all summer during the construction. Now every time there is a new group of simulations, I come out to prepare making sure that simulators are updated and everything is functioning as it should. There’s always an update to be done, something to add or upload, or new technology to integrate.”
Additional technology and equipment will be continually added to the lab as the current and future students progress through their curriculum, including plans to introduce three new patient simulators modeling a mother, baby and young child. And, with its increasing prevalence exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine training will also be emphasized.
“Utilizing telemedicine is the wave of future,” said Curran. “As we have seen now with COVID, people may not be able to leave their house, but still need to be seen by a healthcare provider. We want to have our technology in the sim labs at the same level of hospitals and community settings because it’s very important to provide this realistic training to our students.”
Throughout its first semester of operation, Tomas said that the lab received a glowing response from her students, as it enables them to step outside of the traditional classroom while still receiving invaluable education.
“They’re very excited about the lab. We typically have two to three students involved in the sim room with the patients, with each session videotaped. Then, in the debriefing room, we watch the simulation. I’ll ask what they think they did well or what they’d change. They absolutely love coming to the lab and they love the sims. They’ll often come just to practice.”
The lab has also been lauded by prospective students and families and as the collaborative BSN program continues to grow, so will the new facility.
“Carlow’s BSN graduates have had extraordinary outcomes and are among those with the highest first-time pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in the region,” said Curran. “Technology is important for learners and families, and the lab at Saint Vincent delivers.
“It’s great that this program is offered in Westmoreland County.”
PHOTO 1: Carla Tomas, MSN, RN, FNP-C, Coordinator of Saint Vincent College/Carlow University BSN Program
PHOTO 2: A "sim" patient in the nursing simulation lab
PHOTO 3: From left – Sophomore Shealyn Trostle; clinical instructor Maria Harmon; sophomore Abby Horcicak; and freshman Makenzie Masten
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of Saint Vincent Magazine, which can be viewed in its entirety at this link.