Undergraduate nursing program adapts student clinical, simulation experiences

April 03, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact many areas of teaching and learning, the Penn State College of Nursing delivery of simulation and clinical experiences has evolved to meet the safety needs and learning objectives of nursing students.

With the college’s positioning throughout the state, technology has enabled program delivery at many Commonwealth Campus locations, with the exception of clinical and simulation experiences. During the current situation, technology and creative educators have enabled the migration of clinical and simulation experiences to a virtual environment. Nursing curriculum generally begins with theory; students then implement those theories in a simulation lab which eventually culminates in a clinical experience, where students apply their knowledge in a true clinical setting.

“The [nursing] faculty across all campuses, within a few days, converted all their courses and clinicals to remote learning. They did an outstanding job," said Rae Brown, associate dean of undergraduate education. "And it is more than just converting the courses and clinicals, they had to align everything with the course objectives and the end-of-program outcomes.”

With the coronavirus continuing to circulate, the clinical setting has become impractical for nursing students and educators. In addition, the health care providers who serve as preceptors are now preparing for an overwhelming surge of patients who’ve contracted the virus. In response to this situation’s severity and in an effort to mitigate exposure and spread, clinical facilities have suspended student clinical experiences.

However, to help understand the coronavirus pandemic, the college's nurse educators quickly worked to create case studies and virtual simulations that replicate the real-time scenarios faced by nurses on the front lines. These activities allow students to apply clinical judgment skills in a virtual environment, helping to continue to meet this critical component of nursing education.

Simulation laboratories are a hallmark of nursing schools around the country, using high-fidelity manikins to educate nursing students on best practices for patient care. The Penn State College of Nursing has embedded simulated learning experiences into all clinical courses, which for spring semester alone involved seven courses that are taught at seven different campuses across the commonwealth and involved 1000 students. The undergraduate curriculum is structured and sequential; because of this, disrupting this academic progression has the potential to set students back.

“Converting our face-to-face manikin simulations to a virtual format was challenging," said Chris Garrison, director of simulation. "We wanted to maintain the focus on students who independently interpret patient data and make clinical judgments. Pictures, videos and audio clips were found to replace the data the students would assess on the manikin. We are using Zoom to present the data, have the students implement their care, and debrief.” 

This virtual simulation laboratory solution is helping nursing students to stay on track with their degrees, and encourages student learning objectives that mirror current health-care-provider experiences.

Last Updated April 06, 2020