Smart dummies ‘teach’ student nurses

It looks like a real hospital – overhead fluorescent lights, pale walls, spotless linoleum floors. In one unit, rows of beds are occupied by patients hooked up to IVs, oxygen and heart monitors. In the other – a pediatric unit – babies swaddled in flannel blankets fill cribs, isolettes, bassinets.

But it is a simulated hospital environment – a new 5,000-square-foot learning lab for York’s nursing students on the third floor of the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies Building. The patients are not real, but “smart dummies” that can be programmed to go into crisis.

On Monday, York’s School of Nursing opened this new Nursing Resource Centre, and won praise for being innovative and putting the school “on the map”.

Right: Jim Brownell, parliamentary assistant to Health Minister George Smitherman, Rhonda Lenton (centre), dean of Atkinson Faculty of Professional & Liberal Studies, and Sue Matthews, provincial chief nursing officer, cut the ribbon to officially open York’s new Nursing Resource Centre

Innovations are all over the place. The mannequins in the beds can talk, express pain or comfort, make coughing, vomiting or breathing sounds, and alter heart beat and breathing to simulate health problems that force nursing students to respond in real time – or see them “die”. They will give students the advantage of mastering clinical skills before they graduate.

“You react just as if you were in a hospital,” says Lynda Foster, who, with two other senior nursing students, had just stabilized Johnny (all mannequins have names), a “patient” with gastrointestinal problems complaining of shortness of breath.

Right: Lynda Foster (left) checks the monitor while Andrea de Winter tends the patient and Julie Freeman goes over the chart of a ‘patient’ in Bed 9

“You can read something 50 times in a textbook but doing this makes you feel more confident,” says Julie Freeman, part of the rescue team. “We feel better prepared. We use the same monitors, we use the same lingo. It’s exactly what we would have to do in a real situation.”

Like a puppeteer, practicum coordinator Tracey Fletcher is controlling the patient’s reactions at a computer next to the station. On her computer screen, she can also read the equipment monitors to see how the team is working. “There’s no faking in this scenario,” says student Andrea de Winter. “It’s a good way to evaluate.”

Nursing students can practise everything from inserting a catheter to changing dressings to starting IVs. The centre also features a trauma room, audio-visual lab, computer simulation lab and an isolation room where they can practise the sterile procedures required during an outbreak of viral diseases such as SARS.

 “This clinical simulation technology provides an awesome learning opportunity for students to hone their problem-solving skills and respond to a situation within a specific time frame,” says Kim Shadlock, manager of the Nursing Resource Centre. “It is definitely the latest and greatest way to teach students in a hands-on way, but it’s an adjunct to their overall learning.”

Speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday agreed. They praised York’s School of Nursing for its innovation and the Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for funding the new skills centre. They also tipped their collective hats to York’s new program to recertify internationally trained nurses who have immigrated to Canada.

Right: Rod Webb, associate VP academic, calls the skills centre a ‘wonderful setup’

Rod Webb, York’s associate VP academic, called the new centre “a wonderful setup” and congratulated everyone from  Rhonda Lenton, dean of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, to the minister of citizenship and immigration.

Jim Brownell, parliamentary assistant to provincial Health Minister George Smitherman, said York’s skills lab is part of the Ontario Liberal government’s strategy to address the nursing shortage. He said “nurses are the heart of any health care system.”

An emotional Lenton said, “I’m so proud of the entire School of Nursing.” In three and a half years, a relatively small school has grown to include collaborative programs with Seneca and Georgian colleges, a new master’s program, a second-degree entry program and an internationally educated nurses program, she said. “I’m proud of you. You’ve put nursing at York on the map.” She thanked York’s senior administration for their support.

Left: Rhonda Lenton, dean of the Atkinson Faculty of Professional & Liberal Studies, is proud of the nursing school

“Nursing is knowledge work,” said Sue Matthews, provincial chief nursing officer and a York alumna. “And on this initiative the government really heard what we had to say. It’s important to understand how nurses learn,” she said. “To assimilate all the layers of knowledge, you need to have tools like this clinical simulation,” she said. “Most people understand the caring part of nursing, but they don’t understand the surveillance part.” She explained,  “if you don’t have the clincial skills base, it’s hard to become that caregiving nurse.”

Lesley Beagrie, director of York’s School of Nursing, praised the “incredible teamwork and enthusiasm of the faculty to take on new things.” She said, “We appreciate all the support from the administration to make this a reality. This centre will be put to use every single day.”

Left: Lesley Beagrie, director of York’s School of Nursing, lauds her team’s enthusiasm

Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario – and a former graduate student at York – noted the “humungous change” at York’s nursing school. “It’s a change that is making it shine alongside other schools,” she said. “What makes York different? In one word – embracing innovation,” said Grinspun. She praised the government for acknowledging nursing as a priority.

Grinspun also gave “kudos to York for facilitating and opening doors to those nurses who decide to make Canada their home.”

She said the program for internationally educated nurses is “tremendously needed in Canada” where patients come from such diverse backgrounds.

Right: Nursing Prof. Deb Wood counsels students in the Internationally Educated Nurses Program on the fine points of holding babies, in the new simulated pediatric ward. From left are Qiuping Zhang (China), Urkiye Yilma (Turkey), Jie Lu (China) and Jane Orji (Nigeria).