By Jess Clarke
It’s one thing for nursing students to have a theoretical understanding of such basic tasks as hand hygiene, taking vital signs, bathing patients, and helping them use a walker and cane.
It’s another matter to perform those tasks proficiently and safely.
To strengthen nursing students’ clinical competence and reinforce safety, the Norwich University School of Nursing will implement a new, more rigorous program for eight weeks next semester to evaluate and mentor sophomores and document their progress.
Building on the adage that practice makes perfect, the initiative is based on research by Assistant Professor Llynne Kiernan on how simulation can improve clinical skills.
“I want students to practice the skills in the lab with deliberate practice, time and time again,” she says.
Part of her ongoing graduate research, Kiernan will gather data on the project in order to analyze it, publish her findings, and share them with other nursing educators.
“It has been extremely well-received by my professors at Chatham,” she says, referring to the university where she is slated to earn her doctorate in nursing practice next summer. “It’s a huge deal because anything that improves patient safety and positive patient outcomes is a worthwhile project.”
The project typifies the experiential learning opportunities that define a Norwich education.
Students in Kiernan’s Fundamentals of Nursing class will participate in the project. They will rate their skills at the start and end of the project. In the interim, they will practice their skills in the Norwich University Vital Simulation Clinical Hospital.
Equipped like a real hospital, the facility features oxygen, suction, and intravenous pumps and tubing; a machine to administer medication; and an electronic medical records system. Kiernan and other faculty members will evaluate student progress.
A key component of the project is that senior nursing students will mentor sophomores.
“There are not many opportunities for [younger nursing] students to interface with senior nursing students. It’s a great model for collaborating and for the beginning of mentoring,” Kiernan says. “The primary reason we want peer mentoring is because we want positive patient outcomes.”
The project and the Fundamentals in Nursing course reinforce national nursing standards known as the Quality and Safety Education for Nurses competencies. These include safety, patient-centered care, quality improvement, teamwork and collaboration, and evidence-based practice.
“This is all for the benefit of the students. We want students who are safe and who will provide excellent patient care,” Kiernan says. “We’d rather intervene earlier and have students whose skills have been assessed by seasoned faculty and have faculty there for immediate feedback and correction as needed…We should document student skills before they head off into the patient setting in the real world.”
Kiernan has also established a clinical remediation program in the School of Nursing to build proficiency in skills, and she reinstituted a skills checklist for the nursing lab.
“Llynne is a very strong clinician and one of the students’ favorite professors,” says Ann Marchewka, interim program director of the School of Nursing. “She has wonderfully high standards and holds us all accountable for high-quality teaching and patient care.”
During a 30-year nursing career, Kiernan has worked in hospitals as a medical surgical nurse and in ambulatory care, intensive care, and orthopedics. With a master’s degree in nursing leadership and health systems management from Drexel University, she has taught at Norwich since 2004.
Her research to strengthen students’ skills reflects her passion for teaching.
“I enjoy having students who are excited about the nursing profession, being part of the journey with them and getting them to graduation. And I love my colleagues,” she says. “We’re a very supportive group.