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In an effort to better prepare incoming nurses for the medical field that awaits them during this unprecedented time, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) will attempt to transform how nursing students are taught to treat patients through life-like simulations.

The project — funded by a grant from Sentinel U, a division of American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University that focuses on digital and virtual learning — aims to help close the nursing shortage gap and better equip rookie nurses for the industry in lieu of experienced nurses available to serve as mentors. 

“Now you have these new graduates and if they haven’t been prepared adequately, whether that is [through] simulation or really intensive orientations — which, by the way, are cut super-short because we need these nurses taking care of patients … giving [new nurses] less-than-stellar opportunities to grow their understanding of the role,” said Dr. Laura Gonzalez, vice president of clinical learning resources at Sentinel U. “That burns a new nurse out.”

Along with other universities throughout the country, UDC will be conducting research on the effectiveness of the simulation on nursing students during their undergraduate years throughout 2022.

“The [coronavirus] pandemic has caused many experienced nurses to leave the profession,” said Dr. Vonda Rogers, UDC professor and lead researcher on the project. “Because of the shortage, you’re having more new nurses come in without having experienced nurses to mentor them [and] to help them go through that first year of learning how to prioritize, how to develop and use clinical and critical decision-making.”

Prioritization, clinical thinking and clinical judgment skills are the priority when teaching in the nursing field, Rogers said, stressing the importance of nursing students knowing how to apply information learned in the classroom to real-life situations instead of merely performing well on traditional tests.

“One thing in nursing [is that] we love simulation,” Gonzales said. “We believe in simulation but there hasn’t been enough research or evidence-based data for me to say, ‘this works.'” 

The hope is that the research confirms the effectiveness of simulation-based education for nursing students early in their careers as they approach the medical field.

“Nursing is not black-and-white [situations] and nursing students love black-and-white,” Gonzales said. “But as a nurse for many many years, we know there’s gray so what we’re led by is evidence-based practice. I don’t think we know all of the reasons nurses leave the bedside but the current conditions and lack of support are certainly among them.”  

Rogers said the pandemic has affected nurses and changed how they’re able to interact with their patients, particularly since nurses are giving people and the element of closeness to a patient is partly what makes the profession rewarding for them. 

“We don’t think of ourselves, we think of the patient [and] the individual that needs us,” Rogers said. “You can’t just go in the room and hold hands. When a family member is not there, we are that family member [for the patient]. Because of the pandemic, we can’t do that. You go in the room and you’ve got to get out.”

Natalie Hockaday is a reporter at The Washington Informer covering health in the Washington, D.C. area. Natalie is part of the Report for America program and through this program, she continues to build...

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