Virtual Nursing Simulation Lab Will Give Students Real-World Clinical Experience

Dominican University of California has been awarded $216,000 from the Texas-based RGK Foundation for the development and staffing of a nursing simulation lab. The state-of-the-art lab will provide Dominican nursing students with clinical experience in a risk-free virtual reality environment. The lab also will be available to community health practitioners

The simulation lab, which will open in January, will allow students to respond in real time to patient situations, said Dr. Luanne Linnard-Palmer, chair of Dominican’s Department of Nursing.

“This simulation lab, with two programmable mannequins, will put Dominican in the forefront of nursing education today by providing our students with the real-world clinical experience they need to transition quickly into the role of an independently functioning caregiver,” said Linnard-Palmer. “Simulation eliminates the serious risks inherent in practicing health care skills on live patients and creates a stress-free learning environment that incorporates practice and reflective learning.”

 Two computer-controlled mannequins — an infant and an adult — are the main simulation tools. The mannequins can be programmed to simulate common medical conditions such as croup or asthma or more critical conditions like cardiac arrest or grand mal seizure.  If the mannequin is experiencing a grand mal seizure, for example, the virtual patient will turn blue from lack of oxygen, the vital signs will change and can show a stress response through impending cardiac arrest or septic shock. The student has only minutes to respond to changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. A two-way walkie-talkie in the mannequin enables the teacher — located in a nearby control center—to serve as the voice of the mannequin so that the virtual patient can describe symptoms and discomforts.

These simulated scenarios will give nursing students the opportunity to learn correct interventions in a risk-free environment. Errors can be allowed to occur and play out, providing students with information and feedback about their individual performance and work as a team.

While the mannequins come with pre-set scenarios, Dominican’s nursing faculty currently are working on creating specialized scenarios, many of which incorporate psychological components.

For example, Linnard-Palmer, who still practices as a pediatric oncology nurse, has created a three-step scenario for an infant with leukemia. In the first scenario, the nursing student not only must recognize the symptoms of leukemia, but also must be able to provide emotional support to the parents of the newly diagnosed patient — the walkie-talkie in the pediatric mannequin will be linked to a ‘parent.’ In the second scenario, the mannequin is undergoing intensive chemotherapy and the student must recognize and treat the complications of chemotherapy. In the third scenario, the child has ended a year-long course of treatment and the nursing student is providing instructions to the parents while discharging the patient.

Each mannequin will come equipped with a laptop computer for programming medical scenarios, and monitors for tracking the results of the medical interventions undertaken by the students.  The lab will also include a video system for documenting classroom training, student testing, and for immediate feedback via group debriefing of cognitive, behavioral, and affective skills.

Dominican will offer access to the nursing simulation lab to at least 10 local community health care practitioners and provide skills training for interdisciplinary simulation scenarios (i.e. respiratory therapists, paramedics, and advanced practice nurses). The community health care practitioners that receive training at the new lab will be primarily Dominican nursing alumni employed within the local community.

Posted Aug. 28, 2006