WellStar and Kennesaw State University have teamed up to provide nursing students with a new high quality clinical experience and ultimately, create more proficient nursing graduates.
In the Dedicated Education Unit (DEU), which launched in WellStar Kennestone Hospital’s acute pulmonary unit this fall, each student was paired with a WellStar nurse who served as the student’s personal clinical instructor. This enabled the nursing students more opportunities for critical thinking, skills acquisition, communication with healthcare team members and immersion into the unit culture.
“We created this program to structure and streamline the education curriculum so when nursing students graduate, they are better prepared for their nursing role,” said Carole Harman, BSN, MSA executive director of nursing in acute care at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. “The key thing is they are working with a nurse one-on-one.”
Traditionally, six to eight students share a clinical instructor from their educational institution. These students may be assigned to various units at the healthcare facility. If a student has the opportunity to assist a patient with any kind of procedure or medication, the clinical instructor must be present.
“This often means that students miss opportunities to practice skills because the instructor may be helping another student,” said Christie Emerson, MSN, senior lecturer, KSU WellStar School of Nursing’s DEU clinical coordinator. “In a DEU, this does not happen. With the DEU, the students are being taught by expert clinical nurses who are familiar with unit policies and equipment, and KSU faculty who help link clinical practice with classroom learning.”
Because students’ clinical instructors are by their sides throughout their entire clinical rotation, they have more opportunities to work with patients and collaborate care with other medical team members.
“Now the clinical instructor is the nurse,” said Selena Sharpe, part of the first group of KSU nursing students to complete clinical hours in the DEU. “There is one instructor for every student. And that makes all the difference in the world.”
As a second-semester nursing student, this is Sharpe’s second clinical rotation. Her first was at another healthcare facility in Atlanta where nursing students get their clinical hours the traditional way. Sharpe reported for each shift not knowing whom she’d be working with that day and unsure whether the nurse would be interested in teaching her.
“The main difference is the nurses have agreed to this,” Sharpe said. “Everybody’s on the same page. They want to teach.”
Sharpe’s clinical instructor, Becca Ligon, RN, also graduated from Kennesaw State University, and seems to have a knack for teaching. Ligon talks through various tasks throughout the day to give Sharpe a chance to learn a nurse’s role from A to Z.
“I can relax and just learn from her,” Sharpe said. “She’s very motivating.”
Thanks to their clinical instructors’ personal attention, the nursing students are able to experience everything a nurse does as part of the team rather than as outsiders looking in.
The pilot Dedicated Education Unit at WellStar Kennestone Hospital was offered to junior nursing students enrolled in the required Adult Health Nursing course. They were required to complete 96 hours of clinical practice in eight 12-hour shifts.
“You get to see a lot more than just a traditional eight-hour day,” said Raeshon Botkin-Greenlee, a second semester nursing student at KSU. “This experience has exceeded my expectations.”
Normally, students work through their clinical rotations in eight-hour days. But by gaining experience that comes with working a typical 12-hour nursing shift in the DEU, students experience less stress when they begin their careers and are better prepared for their first nursing roles upon graduation.
When Botkin-Greenlee began working 12-hour shifts on the DEU, she observed the healthcare working environment in a new light.
“It’s a rhythm,” she said. “There is an organized structure to the day. I knew that but I had never seen it in action.”
She starts her day with her clinical instructor, Rosemary Grimes, RN, at 6:40 a.m. when they get the report from the previous shift. They meet the patients, address goals for the day and administer meds.
“As doctors’ orders come in, we’re adjusting,” she said. “Nursing is very collaborative – it is a thinking job.”
And then they start their rounds over, getting the most up-to-date information for physicians, consider diet changes if needed and prepare patients for discharge.
“I like the 12-hour shifts because you get more exposure throughout the day,” said Sharpe, who also appreciates the more realistic schedule. “Being here at different times of day, you’re just going to get more experience.”
Another way WellStar and KSU are enhancing the students’ educations is with scheduling. As opposed to a traditional clinical rotation where the student may report to their healthcare facility just once a week, students in the DEU work twice a week for two days in a row.
“Our clinicals are back-to-back and that lets you have a patient more than one time so you get to see them again, follow up,” Sharpe explained. “It enhances the learning process.”
Botkin-Greenlee couldn’t agree more. Because of the consecutive work days, she was able to get to know patients and celebrate their progress. In one case, she had administered feedings through a feeding tube to one patient who had been in the hospital for several weeks and was able to see him progress.
“To see this patient talking and getting ready to go home and able to eat – I saw within two days how he recovered in leaps and bounds and it was kind of unbelievable!” Botkin-Greenlee said, grinning.
Because of the extended hours and two work days per week, students are able to complete their clinical rotations in just four weeks.
“They are getting such quality time, they learn more in the short period of time,” said Harman, the WellStar nursing director who initiated the DEU partnership concept with KSU last year.
“By all measures, our first four weeks in the Dedicated Education Unit were a success,” she continued. “Students had increased opportunities to develop professionally, take their skills to the next level and form quality relationships. And that’s a win for WellStar. We want these qualified nursing students to continue the relationship with us when they graduate.”