Nurses get a ‘dummy’ run

Nurses get a ‘dummy’ run

Simulated labs give students a hospital-like experience before they go through the doors.

Raising the bar on nursing education, output

Cal State L.A. alumni have joined representatives of several other CSU campuses to advocate so that the CSU may award the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The doctorate would help prepare more faculty to teach future nurses.

California, like the rest of the nation, faces a severe nursing shortage, due in part to the scarcity of qualified, doctorate-holding faculty. Thousands of qualified applicants are turned away from nursing programs each year because there are not enough faculty members to staff classes, which must keep low student-to-faculty ratios to meet accreditor and licensing board standards.

At Cal State L.A., the School of Nursing receives about seven applicants for every undergraduate spot and more than that for every master’s level opening.

“We know that there are more applicants than we can admit each year, and that’s a major concern across the state and country,” said Cynthia Hughes, the director of the School of Nursing.

For more information about pending legislation that has an impact on the CSU, please contact the Alumni Relations Office at (323) 343-ALUM (2586).

When Mary Ann Shinnick left nursing in a hospital intensive care unit after 25 years to teach, she thought the fast-paced emergencies, the blood and the drama were behind her.

In her new role as the director of Cal State L.A.’s two-year-old simulated nursing lab, however, that’s not quite the case.

Shinnick develops nursing simulations with technologically advanced mannequins – robots, really – that mimic real healthcare incidents. The mannequins do everything from groan, yell and ask questions about care, to show signs of organ complications, and secrete simulated blood and bodily fluids when poked and prodded. In the works are pediatrics, obstetrics and operating suites to bring more simulated health situations to students.

“We try and make everything as real as possible,” said Shinnick. “It’s better to learn it here – the first time, than in the hospital.”

The simulated nursing lab is one tool that helps to enhance nursing education, and in turn elevates the profession, experts say.  Trial runs and lessons learned in the lab boost student confidence in practice.

Students who graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from Cal State L.A.’s School of Nursing are trained to be leaders, experts and advocates for the patients, said Cynthia Hughes, director of the School of Nursing. “We want them to be really skilled and flexible so they can move in different directions.”

An evolving image
The introduction and increasing importance of technology in nursing education, is also evidence, though, of how the field has changed and continues to evolve, Hughes said.

Nurses have more responsibility, respect and much better pay ($81,060 was the average nurse practitioner salary in 2008, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing) now than three decades ago when nursing was viewed as a career option for women without many choices, she explains.

Today, nurse practitioners – who have the ability to write prescriptions and manage care – deliver a significant portion of the primary care, College of Health and Human Services Dean Beatrice Yorker notes.

Today, administrative and leadership roles are the norm. Among Cal State L.A.’s graduates alone, nursing alumni hold administrative posts at Cedars-Sinai, USC University Hospital and Memorial Health Services, among others.

A critical partner
Cal State L.A. has played a role in that evolution, faculty say.

It was one of the first programs to offer students who hold a bachelor’s degree in the sciences a shorter route to obtaining a master’s degree. And the University consistently adds diversity to the profession by graduating more men and students of underrepresented populations than many other colleges.

But there is still work to be done. Answers to complex problems, such as solving the nursing shortage, are still to come.

In the meantime, though, technology and the simulated labs provide students with a training ground that brings a dose of reality to the learning labs.