New Sim Lab gives nursing students real-life experience
If you thought simulators were just for pilots and astronauts, think again. Nursing students at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) can now train on complex, real-life patient-care scenarios inside the Clinical Simulation Lab for Nursing Education at Sovah Health’s Martinsville campus.
The Sim Lab, which opens this month, features sophisticated, high-tech “patient simulators” that respond to treatment and care just like a real patient, according to Amy Webster, PHCC’s director of nursing and allied health.
For example, nursing students can deliver a “baby,” stop a massive hemorrhage, care for sick infants and stroke patients, and perform blood transfusions. Educators watch the student in action from within a high-tech control room and use simulation software and a wireless connection to change a patient’s biological response in real time based on the student’s actions.
“The potential scenarios we can simulate really run the gamut,” Webster explains, noting that working nurses can also use the facility for continuing education.
The Sim Lab came about after the Harvest Foundation, a nonprofit foundation established by the sale of Memorial Hospital in 2002, awarded a $5.8 million grant to PHCC in 2018 to help grow the local workforce. More than $1.5 million of that funding is being used to build, equip and operate the Sim Lab and pay the salaries of four employees, including two full-time educators.
PHCC educates an average of 110 students each semester in each of its two nursing programs — a one-year practical nurse program and a two-year registered nurse program. Sovah Health, a major employer of PHCC graduates, partnered on the project by housing the Sim Lab within its Martinsville hospital.
“The Sim Lab is a multiplier factor for us,” says PHCC President Angeline Godwin. “Students get more hands-on practice and perform better in their clinicals and, ultimately, the community benefits because we have higher quality nurses doing patient care.”
Like other areas of the country, Southern Virginia suffers from a severe nursing shortage. Sovah Health, for example, which employs 200 full-time nurses at its Martinsville campus and 600 overall, is presently dealing with a 17 percent vacancy rate and a 23 percent turnover rate for nurses across all of its locations.
PHCC and Sovah Health officials say the Sim Lab will help remedy the shortage by attracting more top students and retaining more nurses already working in the region.
“Students who train in the Sim Lab will have more confidence in their clinical knowledge and skills and be more prepared for the challenges of nursing practice,” says Jacquelyn Wilkerson, market chief nursing officer for Sovah Health. “Additionally, retention data suggests that nurses enjoy growing and developing their skills and are looking for opportunities to help them do that.”