Aging of America's baby boomers drives new geriatric simulation clinic at Fairfield University's School of Nursing

Image: HRSA clinicRaquel DeJesus, a Fairfield University nursing student, was feeling the pressure. An elderly man was showing Parkinson's Disease-like symptoms.

Never mind that the patient was actually a $93,000 Laerdal SimMan 3G High Fidelity robotic mannequin. He resides in the School of Nursing's new four-bed P.R.A.C.T.I.C. E. Geriatric Nursing Simulated Clinic.

DeJesus, a Family Nurse Practitioner student, was in the midst of a solo, 60-minute exercise, requiring her to examine three other new high-tech, wireless patients.

"This is a great way to learn and I much prefer learning in here with faculty around me," she said.

The simulation teaching tools were purchased with a $233,153 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA), helping Fairfield to increase undergraduate and graduate nursing students' expertise in caring for older adult, culturally diverse populations. It's in part a response to the unprecedented population shift in the United States today, one fueled by the aging of Baby Boomers and multicultural diversity.

Image: HRSA clinicSimulation learning is central to the School of Nursing as it allows students to practice nursing skills risk-free. The simulation mannequins are helping students acquire advanced practice registered nursing skills. Complete with dilating pupils and bodily fluids, some bleed, drool, breathe, blink, sweat, have bowel and lung sounds, and can demonstrate irregular heart patterns. One has an intravenous-lock, a tube attached to a catheter in a vein for the delivery of medicine. They also 'talk,' courtesy of faculty voicing dialogue from wireless headsets, a way to sharpen students' communication skills. Some can have heart attacks, too, as well as spurt blood so students can practice wound care.

"We can even program them to die," said Sheila Grossman, Ph.D., professor of nursing, part of a team awarded the grant. "It is certainly something the student will not forget."

Two virtual IV/phlebotomy arm-like devices were also purchased with the HRSA funds. Students can use them to learn how to locate veins, draw blood and start IVs while seeing their actions on a virtual arm on a computer.

"If a student gives one of them too much medication, he can be programmed by us via the computer to have an adverse reaction," said Diane Mager, Ph.D., director of the Learning Resource Center, part of the grant team at the school that also includes Suzanne Campbell, Ph.D., associate dean for academic programs, and Meredith Wallace Kazer, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing.

DeJesus '11, said learning in the new clinic "takes a bit of the pressure off for when I really have to do this."

Clad in wigs and clothes to resemble multi-cultural elderly individuals, the teaching tools join six simulation mannequins in the School of Nursing Robin Kanarek '96 Learning Resource Center, a state-of-the-art facility that provides Fairfield students with a hospital-like and now clinic setting to practice nursing skills before they care for real patients. A walk inside the facility reveals an array of lifelike mannequins: a woman in labor, an intensive care patient, a child and a newborn baby, among them.

Campbell said that 20 or more years ago nursing students didn't have the benefit of these Human Patient Simulators (HPS). "We had to practice skills on each other," explained the professor after manipulating a SimMan to tremble. "Today, there are these high tech simulators such as you see here."

Through the development of new technology and greater emphasis on health promotion, people who are 65 and over number about one in every eight Americans and a 19% increase in older adults is projected by 2030.

Jeanne Novotny, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the school, said this population shift has led to a significant need for educating nurses on the specifics of geriatric assessment and care management. "This effort on the part of Fairfield will increase the number of nursing graduates educated to deliver primary and long-term health care for the increasingly diverse population of older adults in the country."

The letters in the P.R.A.C.T.I.C. E. facility's name each stand for its other learning objectives: 'P' to promote healthy people, 'R' to reflect on practice, 'A' for acquiring advanced practice registered nursing skills, 'T' to treat vulnerable diverse elders, 'I' for intervening with maximal outcomes for older adults, 'C' to communicate best practices in gerontology, and 'E' stands for educating elders/families. Observed Grossman, "Studying in this new simulation lab with supervision by experienced faculty with gerontological expertise will enhance students' competency."

Images: top) Raquel DeJesus takes part in a simulation exercise in the School of Nursing's new four-bed P.R.A.C.T.I.C. E. Geriatric Nursing Simulated Clinic; bottom) Diane Mager, Ph.D., director of the Robin Kanarek '96 Learning Resource Center, teaches a student with the help of equipment purchased with funds from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA) grant.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726,

Posted on March 30, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 260

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