Human patient simulation lab to benefit rural health care training

Penn State, Lewistown Hospital and Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center partner to create training center for health care professionals

University Park, Pa. -- Pennsylvania has nearly 184,000 registered nurses (RNs), but 23 percent choose not to work in health care due to workplace hardships involving overtime, scheduling and stress, according to a government report. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) — the main workers in long-term care facilities — are facing similar challenges. These developments are hampering efforts to reduce the nurse shortage statewide, particularly in rural areas. In response, Lewistown Hospital reopened its School of Nursing and is partnering with Penn State to educate and train new nurses, as well as RNs who already live in the region. The newest tool in this educational partnership is the Multidisciplinary Science and Health Laboratory in the Penn State Learning Center in Lewistown.

The lab features the latest in high-technology human patient simulators and other equipment to enhance learning for student nurses and other health care professionals in rural Mifflin and Juniata counties. One room features life-like adult and child mannequins that are programmable and can display a wide range of medical symptoms and conditions for teaching purposes. A video camera will record training sessions. A second room is equipped for teaching basic science courses and for conducting scientific experiments.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house are planned for 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, at the lab. Activities will include a Penn State Creamery ice cream social and demonstrations of the lab’s patient simulators, with the ribbon cutting set for 6 p.m. From 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, a student recruitment event will be held at the lab. The weeklong series of events will culminate on Oct. 31 with the Lewistown Hospital’s annual fundraising gala that this year will benefit the lab.

"The lab's priority is nursing education," said Tom Walker, director of the Penn State Learning Center. "The chance to observe and participate in clinical cases they might not otherwise experience in a rural community hospital is a primary benefit."

According to Kay A. Hamilton, president and chief executive officer of Lewistown Hospital, "The Multidisciplinary Science and Health Laboratory will benefit not only School of Nursing students, but also hospital staff and community members working in allied health organizations. Instead of having to travel out of the area for mandated continuing education and training, our community health care professionals can learn and train close to home."

The lab, a partnership of Penn State, Lewistown Hospital and Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center, is supported by a $196,000 equipment grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and funding from the partners.

Kim Stuck, a faculty member in the hospital's School of Nursing, said, "Our goal is to graduate the best-prepared nurses. We want them to have excellent skills." She added, "It can be difficult to prepare nurses for all types of cases, especially in a rural area. The volume and diversity of pediatric cases, in particular, just isn’t there."

School of Nursing Director Mary Alyce Nelson said, "The lab will attract more adults in the region to nursing careers, because we’ll be able to offer better training. The lab will also give students and clinicians the opportunity to simulate and practice emergency cases they may encounter in real life." That will be especially helpful during the hospital's disaster drill training, where the mannequins will make the drills much more realistic, Nelson said.

Young people also will benefit from having a state-of-the-art science lab centrally located. Kirk A. Gilbert, Learning Center science coordinator and rural health educator, plans to develop summer youth science and health camps beginning in summer 2010. In addition, high school students will get to explore nursing and allied health careers through demonstrations in the Multidisciplinary Lab.

For Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center's Practical Nursing Program, "the lab will expand the clinical horizons for licensed practical nursing students," said Alicia B. Lentz, program coordinator. The Technology Center is a partner in the lab, and Lentz has been instrumental in securing match funds from the center’s board.

For more information about the Multidisciplinary Science and Health Laboratory, contact the Penn State Learning Center at (717) 248-9618.

Penn State Continuing Education offers a venue for adults to return to the classroom. Continuing Education reaches more than 30,000 adult learners annually at Penn State campuses statewide. The unit also serves more than 220,000 Pennsylvania youth each year through summer academic and sport camps and other programs at Penn State campuses. Continuing Education is comprised of Conferences, Continuing Education at all Penn State campuses, Management Development Programs and Services, and Shaver's Creek Environmental Center. For more information, visit www.outreach.psu.edu/ce/ online. Continuing Education is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010