University of Lethbridge: undergraduate experience

Making nursing education an immersive experience

Undergraduates at the University of Lethbridge gain confidence and skills from high-tech fusion of practice and theory

The patient has congestive heart failure—and his condition is getting worse. Test results are due any minute, but his blood pressure is dropping. Suddenly he’s in full cardiac arrest. The nursing team springs into action. It’s a truly life-or-death situation, and every second counts…

Fortunately for both the ‘patient’ and the students enrolled in the bachelor of nursing program—a collaboration between the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College—this is all part of an elaborate, highly sophisticated simulation. No one’s life is really on the line.

At some point in their studies, all nursing students in the program put their learning to the test through scenarios like this one, staged in the university’s Simulation Health Centre. It’s a risk-free environment where students can learn experientially without real-world consequences, explains Sharon Dersch, coordinator of the centre.

Prepared for any situation

Built in 2010, the SHC is just one component of a well-rounded nursing education program whose combination of theory and practice exposes students to a broad range of nursing scenarios—including the differences between working in urban and rural settings.

“All of our students do a clinical rotation at a rural hospital, which is an extremely varied environment,” says Ms. Dersch. “In the morning, they may observe the birth of a baby. In the afternoon, they could be helping an accident victim in emergency.”

Learning through reflection

Ms. Dersch says the SHC team is looking for further opportunities to integrate the technology of the SHC with the classroom experience. Already today, students may learn about a particular condition or procedure and then head down to the lab to see it dramatized through the use of uncannily lifelike, high-tech mannequins that have a pulse and lung activity, speak and blink. Interactions—and scenarios like the cardiac arrest drill—are often recorded so students can debrief with instructors afterward.

“Reflective practice and critical thinking are a big part of students’ practical learning,” says Ms. Dersch. “They spend a great deal of time debriefing with instructors—what were they thinking in the moment, what information did they need, how did they get it, how did they respond?”

Dersch says most students are surprised to find they performed better under pressure than they might have felt in the moment.

“You can talk about things in classroom but until you practice them, you wont get it,” says Ally Kopp, a third-year student. “This program has prepared me to go into a wide range of environments, and be ready for change. I think that’s key. Nursing isn’t a profession where you get your degree and you’re good to go. It’s constantly changing and you have to keep learning as you go.”

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