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New Nursing Technology Enhances Student Success at VSU

VALDOSTA — Alex Wetherill walks into Valdosta State University’s STEP (Simulated Training Encounters with Patients) Center for her first nursing simulation experience ready to listen, evaluate, and respond. Her instructions are clear — use concepts taught in the classroom to safely practice a medical procedure she may someday perform in real life on real patients.

Wetherill begins assessing her assigned patient, an elderly, dark-skinned, state-of-the-art, high-fidelity female manikin programmed to experience palpitations, fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

Guided by her instructor, Andrea Paige Krispin, undergraduate nursing coordinator with VSU’s College of Nursing and Heath Sciences, Wetherill communicates with her patient, asks questions, provides comfort, and explains what is going to happen and why. She measures her patient’s vitals, gathers data from the cardiac monitor, and practices consulting with a physician. Throughout the simulation, the manikin replicates many human responses, including breathing, blinking, communicating distress, and responding to questions, which adds a level of life-like sophistication to the educational experience.

The patient is eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and prescribed medications, including an anticoagulant, which Wetherill calculates and administers while staying calm, collected, and connected to her patient’s needs.

“I am gaining more confidence because of the hands-on experience we get with these manikins,” she shares. “They help us learn in a safe and controlled environment. Technology like this is making a huge impact on us and helping ensure we are ready to provide excellent care for our future real-life patients.”

Weatherill discovered a passion for nursing after enlisting in the United States Air Force six years ago.

“I came into the Air Force as an aerospace medical technician,” says the second semester junior from Blacksburg, South Carolina, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at VSU through the U.S. Air Force Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program. “I got the opportunity to work alongside amazing nurses who were experts in their specialties and who inspired me to become a nurse. I loved my work as a medic, and I look forward to using my nursing skills to continue serving in the Air Force and care for those who care for our country.

“VSU’s nursing program has been an amazing experience so far, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me.”

Addressing the Critical Nursing Shortage in Georgia

The Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce awarded VSU a $446,000 Nursing School Grant in spring 2023 to help ensure all Georgians, especially those in rural and underserved areas, have access to high quality healthcare.

According to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, Georgia is expected to have a 21 percent shortage of registered nurses by 2035, the second highest estimated shortage in the nation. The growing need for nurses in the Peach State is due, at least in part, to an aging general population in need of expanded healthcare services and an aging nursing workforce that will soon retire.

As of 2022, approximately 43 percent of the state’s total nursing workforce is over age 50.

The Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce funding allows VSU’s School of Nursing to train and graduate more practice-ready registered nurses and expand its on-campus STEP Center by purchasing new, state-of-the-art, high-fidelity manikins. These sophisticated, life-like human patient simulators mimic human anatomy and physiology and realistic patient environments.

Michele Blankenship, assistant professor of nursing and director of simulation at VSU, said the School of Nursing was able to purchase 11 new state-of-the-art, high-fidelity manikins — three Nursing Annes (scenario-based training simulators), two SimMan Essentials (core skills simulators), a SimMom (full birthing simulator), a SimNewB (newborn simulator), and four SimJuniors (pediatric simulators).

“Our STEP Center now offers a diverse array of manikins representing all ages, genders, and skin tones from light to medium to dark,” she said. “The new manikins help us provide a more inclusive learning experience, and the students are responding to that. The updated technology brings more realism into simulation, which increases student confidence in performing clinical tasks, making clinical judgments, as well as communicating with patients and each other, and in the real world that translates to better patient outcomes.”

The manikins have only been in use for a short time, but Blankenship said she can already see the positive effect they are having on student learning, as students are better able to see themselves and their loved ones represented in the patient simulators they care for on campus. She said the new manikins also enhance lessons on the social determinants of health care, or how understanding a patient’s culture and complete lived experience impacts their health and future outcomes.

Blankenship said research conducted by VSU School of Nursing faculty shows that the on-campus simulation experiences have a significant impact on increasing nursing student confidence and decreasing anxiety.

“Simulation is about removing fear and putting students in a non-threatening environment where they can relax and learn, make mistakes and learn from them,” she added. “Because these new manikins can mimic a real patients and real world medical scenarios, simulation creates opportunities for our nursing students to gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses and use that information to become better people and caregivers.”

Confidence is important because it drives a nurse to respond quickly and provide appropriate, safe, and accurate intervention. It helps nurses build a rapport with their patients and establish a level of trust that can prove to be the difference between life and death for a patient. Patients who trust their medical team typically share more information and that leads to better diagnoses and treatment outcomes.

“The wonderful part about training on the manikins is that they provide me with the opportunity to practice a wide variety of clinical situations safely and in the comfort of the lab,” said Alyssa Spangler, a junior nursing major from Moultrie, Georgia. “I feel that using the manikins will help me to gain confidence as a future nurse and will lead me to be more prepared when I am faced with real life challenges in a hospital or healthcare setting.”

VSU’s School of Nursing, part of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program; an accelerated BSN program for degree-holding students who want to earn a second degree in nursing; a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, which allows students to pursue careers as either a family nurse practitioner or family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice, which prepares nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes and translate research into practice.

Read more about the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce Nursing School Grant at https://www.valdosta.edu/about/news/releases/2023/05/vsu-awarded-grant-to-address-nursing-shortage-train-next-generation-pioneers-in-patient-care.php.

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