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Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - Nursing Students Get ‘Realistic’ Clinical Experience
Parkwest Medical Center is providing students in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing a richer, more intensive clinical experience through a unique partnership called the Dedicated Education Unit (DEU).

In January, Parkwest and the UT College of Nursing implemented the first DEU for clinical teaching on the cardio-pulmonary-renal unit. The DEU is a working patient care unit that has developed into an optimal teaching and learning environment through the collaborative effort of nurses, management and faculty.

Hospitals typically have students from multiple nursing programs working on various units as part of their required clinical experience. The DEU at Parkwest means that UTK nursing students
get a more hands-on clinical experience.

During the spring semester, eight UTK nursing students worked on the unit for various 12-hour shifts. They were placed around the clock, seven days a week to maximize learning. All students worked at least one 12-hour night shift. A total of six shifts were completed by each student, and some students opted for more night shifts after their first experience, citing the alternate pace as a different, more positive learning opportunity.

“We are very pleased with the innovative experience Parkwest is able to provide for UT nursing students,” said Janice McKinley, Parkwest chief nursing officer. “This allows us to give nursing students the opportunity to work in a more realistic setting where our future nurses can learn about the career they’ve chosen.”

Selected nursing staff who work on this unit at Parkwest agree to collaborate with faculty to be preceptors, educators and clinical expert role models for the students. The nursing staff is prepared for their teaching role through a workshop provided by faculty in the UT College of Nursing to introduce the concept of the DEU, review the curriculum, clinical course content and expected
clinical outcomes, and explore teaching/learning strategies to facilitate clinical learning.

“This level of exposure in the hospital is more in line with the realities that professional nurses face,” said Dr. Gary Ramsey, chair of the undergraduate program and coordinator of the DEU clinical teaching model. “Nurses in the profession may work at all hours, weekends and weekdays, and for long shifts. Students do not get a taste of this in their normal clinical experiences. This partnership truly shows our students what being a professional nurse is like.”

With only UT nursing students on the unit, Parkwest staff will be zable to develop closer relationships with both the students and the faculty and will avoid confusion of different outcomes and expectations of different nursing programs. Allie Brown, the UT faculty member on the unit, explains that this arrangement benefits not only the students but the nursing staff as well.

“I have been on other units where in a five-day period, there were three different nursing schools with students,” Brown said. “It is very difficult for nurses to really know how to help students when they constantly shift from nursing program to program and even from beginning students to advanced students, all within a week. By having only one school on the entire unit, all levels of personnel
are able to embrace the students and make the learning environment a more positive place.”

“Students often graduate and never have any idea of what happens on the night shift, and many start out working nights,” Brown said. “By exposing them to the various shifts before graduation, we are preparing them more for the real-world work environment.”

Recent nursing graduate Jeremy Mills (BSN ’10) agrees that this particular arrangement has been a great part of UT Knoxville’s nursing program.

“While I certainly had a lot of experience in a hospital setting by that point, I still walked in nervous and unsure of my own skill set. The DEU changed everything for me,” Mills said. “By the end of the second DEU shift, I knew in my heart that I could definitely be a nurse. Clinical settings are fast-paced and demanding. Having students all vying for the attention of a single, occasionally over-extended nursing instructor can lead to a hectic day, especially considering that the average clinical day is only around six hours,” Mills said.

With longer shifts and more personal contact, the DEU provides a clearer picture of what it’s like to be nurse.

“The nursing student, for the first time, gets a true sense of what it means to work a 12-hour shift as a nurse,” Mills said. “The student starts with report, maintains total patient care throughout
the day, and ends by giving report to the oncoming nurse. I had certainly never worked a 12-hour shift before the DEU, and this was the first time that I saw what it really means to work as a nurse in a hospital environment.

Ramsey agrees that the DEU experience is valuable.

“This model of education means that we can increase the number of students in the program while utilizing the same number of faculty,” Ramsey said. “It’s more efficient, and it provides the more personalized instruction needed to create an optimal learning environment for nursing students. Students come out of this experience with a better understanding of nursing.”

DEU models are unique. The UTK College of Nursing is one of only two programs in the Southeast to utilize the DEU learning model. The University of Portland was the first hospital in the country to employ this particular model, which UT followed closely.

“The DEU program is the next step in training nurse professionals. It is a model that allows clinical nurses on the units to establish relationships with the new graduate level nurses. The one-on-one interaction is priceless.

The DEU program not only provides a realistic encounter of bedside nursing and all that entails, but also assists in bridging hospitals with new graduate nurses that already know the expectations
and processes of the organization with whom they participated. It is truly a win-win for all parties,” said Heather Jett, nurse manager for the Parkwest cardio-pulmonary-renal unit.

The DEU will continue to be used each semester, with groups of senior BSN students having clinical rotations for adult medical-surgical courses.

Thanks to this experience, Mills not only better understood the profession but had a job waiting for him after graduation.

“I fell in love with the unit and Parkwest almost immediately,” he said. “I’m excited beyond belief that I was able to get a position on the unit and look forward to assisting future UT nursing students.”

This article was produced in collaboration with the UT College of Nursing.