MILWAUKEE COUNTY — With a nursing shortage and coronavirus putting a strain on medical staff, preparing the nurses of tomorrow is more important than ever. However, because of COVID-19, some hospitals are not allowing nursing students to continue their hospital rotations.
Now, nursing students expecting to graduate this spring, may not step foot in another hospital until after they graduate. But Marquette University is making sure they continue learning.
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"We've converted completely to virtual simulation," Kristina Thomas Dreifuerst, Associate Professor at Marquette University said. "Three weeks ago, we met to strategize a plan and a way to infuse a whole lot more screen based, virtual simulation into the curriculum so students would be prepared."
At Marquette, nursing students start hospital rotations their sophomore year. So, upcoming graduates have spent the better part of the last three years getting hands-on experience. However, the virtual simulations are a way to continue that education so they can get started as soon as possible.
"They're quite robust," Dreifuerst said. "We can pretty much simulate anything today. We can simulate any clinical situation. We can change simulations to meet current needs. We can alter simulations. We can focus discussions and debriefings on certain aspects of simulations. So we have a lot that we can do with these to help our students learn how to take care of patients safely."
The simulation program feels a lot like a video game; think of it as a medical version of the Sims.
"So he's having trouble breathing so I need to give him some medication to help with his breathing," Dr. Amber Young-Brice, a professor in the program said. "So I know I have to give some albuterol. I can double check my orders like nurses do in practice. I can select my dose and get this onto the patient."
However, the nursing students can also hear a number of things while going through the simulation. Young-Brice says she can hear the patient's breathing is labored and his heart rate is increasing. These slight features can also help students feel the pressure of having a life on the line.
"This is a medical-surgical level scenario," Young-Brice said. "Sitting at my desk, my chest is tight. I feel heaviness. I'm like, oh goodness, what do I need to do next? My brain is going and I'm getting a little nervous. I'm very nervous right now that my patient is not doing well."
Students feel the same way.
"I do feel nervous," Mary Grace McCormack, a senior at Marquette University said. "When my patient is going down, I'm like what do I need to do? What can I do?"
McCormack says she does miss physically being in the hospital but is grateful to have simulations as intense as these to help her feel prepared for after graduation.
"I do think I'll be ready," McCormack said. "Starting [clinical rotations] sophomore year helps but these virtual simulations are great too. They put you int he mindset of being a nurse and critically thinking of, if their blood pressure is low, what do I do? Who do I call or what is next? It does keep you in that mindset of being prepared. Being a nurse and always having that critical thinking aspect."
"The students that are poised to graduate this May will be graduating," Young-Brice said. "They have actually had numerous hours of clinical already. They've completed skills testing and assessment testing. They're ready."
Wisconsin is working towards allowing nursing students to start working before they graduate. However, Marquette says they are not releasing their nursing students to work until they graduate.