Photo credit: Vicki Rock/AP
Nursing students at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, use simulation-based training to help them prepare for rare obstetric emergencies. Nearly 5000 participants go through the training each year. The simulated events help them achieve greater competence in diagnosing and treating these ailments so they can provide safer and more effective care to patients.
Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s Medical Skills Learning Center is one of less than 100 simulation centers in the world accredited by the American College of Surgeons as a Comprehensive Education Institute. Thus, the center allows participants to engage in learning that is both immersive and experiential.
According to the works of educational theorists David Kolb and Ronald Fry, adults learn best through active, hands-on experiences where they can observe and reflect on their work and change their actions based on what they have learned. This form of learning is called “experiential” or learning by doing.
Carol McIlhenny, a woman-child clinical nurse educator at Conemaugh, agrees that adults learn from experience. Therefore, she believes students should practice emergency procedures rather than learn about them in textbooks.
Conemaugh’s simulation center provides students and staff with hands-on learning opportunities where they can put into practice what they learned in the classroom. The center’s OB/GYN and childbirth simulator, Gaumard’s NOELLE, is so advanced she can display a variety of symptoms and ailments that can occur during the pre- and postnatal periods.
Therefore, participants can use NOELLE to identify physiological cues, form a diagnosis, and perform medical and surgical interventions using real tools and equipment. Since participants can repeat events as often as they want, simulation allows them to hone skills and become highly experienced care providers.
Traditionally, healthcare students gain these valuable experiences during clinical training hours, wherein they practice providing care on real patients. However, a shortage of clinical training sites has caused schools to slash the number of students they can accept.
Moreover, learning at these sites is often opportunistic, in that, students only get to practice treating ailments as they present themselves. This means that some students might never see a birth during their clinical hours. As a result, healthcare providers entering the workforce might have gaps in their knowledge, and their inexperience can cause them to make mistakes.
Simulation-based training can fill those gaps and allow providers to gain the experience needed to provide high quality and effective care. In the simulation center, Conemaugh nursing students experience a variety of common and rare scenarios and practice techniques for each. Thus, they never miss a chance to acquire the experience and preparation needed to be successful care providers.
“We prefer to practice, to simulate, a variety of scenarios [so our students will be] prepared to handle [the rigors of providing care during rare emergency events], even if we only see them in reality once every one to three months,” said McIlhenny.
McIlhenny recounts how a former nursing student who went through the training program knew what to do during a rare labor complication because she had practiced the procedure in the simulation center.
This is one example of why Conemaugh educators value simulation so highly. Ultimately, they want to give their students every opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills so they can avoid mistakes and ensure patients get the best care possible.