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Auburn University student nurses are bound to be nervous when they provide care to a patient for the very first time.
Riley Cullen, a first-year nursing student, wasn't nervous. She was terrified.
"But I feel better now that it's over because now we can go to the hospital and know a little bit more about what to expect," said Cullen.
Every semester, before Auburn's nursing students participate in a clinical rotation, they participate in a simulation exercise on campus, mimicking what they could see at a healthcare facility. Nearly 60 first-year students went through the exercise Oct. 10-14, before their first clinical experience at area hospitals began Oct. 17.
Teresa Gore, an assistant clinical professor and simulation learning coordinator for Auburn's School of Nursing, said a mock hospital unit was created in Miller Hall in 2007, after her research showed how much the experience decreased anxiety levels in students before their first clinical.
"Because they've never had this experience before, we always try to make sure we give them opportunities to practice in a safe environment that they can learn from and this way, there is no harm to any human patients," she said. "Their anxiety goes down because they have experience to pull from so that when they care for real patients, they have more knowledge."
The mock hospital looks like the real thing, with hospital beds and medical equipment. Each of the four beds is occupied by a patient, a computer-operated mannequin that can ‘talk' to nurses and react to the care it receives thanks to a nursing instructor manning a computer from behind a one-way mirrored room.
Each instructor has a role to play – a patient with a particular condition such as diabetes or an infection – but will put the role aside to offer students advice when necessary.
The symptoms of every patient vary each semester depending on the students' level of skill and knowledge. Gore said it would have been ineffective to make the first-year students react to a patient who dies from cardiac arrest, but she wouldn't hesitate to test the scenario on senior students who have had more training.
Because death is possible in a real hospital, Gore said the students take the fake exercise seriously. An unintentional glitch with the microphones presented a pair of first-year students with a real problem they didn't expect – an unresponsive patient. Instead of assuming the lack of communication was pretend, they responded as if it was real.
Gore believes nursing students learn to make fewer errors and develop a foundation for safe practices in the mock hospital setting.
"We were extremely nervous and we made a few mistakes, but it helps us learn from them and now we are going to feel much more confident to enter the hospital and have confidence in our skills," said first-year student Ashley Pigg. "A couple of the mistakes we made, we really never want to make (again) and we learned from them and we won't make them in real life."
The first-year students may still be nervous for their first clinicals, but Pigg is confident in her classmates.
"We're very skilled and we've been taught by the best," she said. "We've learned a lot in the last few weeks and we are very excited to get to use our skills in real life."
Last Updated: Oct. 26, 2011