UW News

April 17, 2008

High-tech simulators enhance nursing education

When Lu Hilton was a student in the UW School of Nursing in the ’50s, learning patient care was pretty low tech. “We used to have to practice on each other.”

Today students in schools of nursing and medicine get a chance to rehearse their skill sets on high-tech simulators before they set foot on the hospital stage and interact with real patients.

Hilton was one of the many alumni, students and friends attending last week’s open house in the UW School of Nursing’s newly renovated learning lab, or Center for Excellence in Nursing Education, where nursing students demonstrated their diagnostic and treatment abilities on three, state-of-the-art, life-size computerized simulators. Hilton was amazed at how much technology has enhanced the learning environment.

“I had no idea that this kind of thing would happen,” said Hilton, a 1957 graduate of the School of Nursing. “This is a wonderful program.”

The simulators — SimMan, SimBaby and Noelle — are programmed to simulate a variety of human responses — vital signs, symptoms, talking, and complaining. Noelle, one of the newer simulators, can be programmed for labor and delivery with real-time contractions, a baby, umbilical cord, placenta and blood. Each patient simulator costs about $30,000. The lab also has seven lower-tech simulators, which can be programmed to varying degrees.

Although the simulators are expensive they are effective because they not only allow students to learn a skill, but also when and how to apply it, said Juvann Wolff, director of the nursing lab. Faculty create changing scenarios that require the student nurses to interact with them as they would with a real patient. Students receive feedback on their patient encounters right away and can try again if they’ve made a mistake.

The renovation of the lab was made possible by donors who contributed to the Creating Futures campaign. The campaign raised $1.4 million for the renovation and lab equipment and endowed the Center for Excellence in Nursing Education.