Blinking, birthing robots aid nursing school training

When Dorothy Cannon NUR ’47 was a young cadet nurse during World War II, she gained experience the hard way — by caring for wounded soldiers. But these days, nursing students practice their skills on a different kind of patient: a robot affectionately nicknamed “Harry.”

“Harry,” a patient robot that can blink, cry and simulate convulsions, is one of many technological innovations changing the face of nursing. It was presented to alumni at the School of Nursing’s Alumni Weekend, held Friday and Saturday last week. Over those two days, the school showcased its new online resources and expanding efforts to emphasize hands-on teaching techniques. Current students said they think the new technologies will prepare them for the growing number of career opportunities in nursing.

A patient robot, which nursing students use to simulate treating wounds and injuries, is presented at the Nursing School’s Alumni Weekend.
Raymond Carlson
A patient robot, which nursing students use to simulate treating wounds and injuries, is presented at the Nursing School’s Alumni Weekend.

Learning tools like “Harry” are one way to give nursing students directly applicable training to ensure they do not make mistakes while working with patients. Margaret Grey NUR ’76, dean of the Nursing School, said innovative teaching is important because it helps students feel comfortable in a job where small blunders can have big consequences.

“What happens [in hospitals] needs to happen faster,” she said. “There is a reliance on technology to avoid mistakes.”

The alumni weekend, which drew more than 60 graduates to New Haven, had as its theme “Educating the Next Generation of Yale Nurses.” In her keynote address Friday, associate professor Linda Pellico NUR ’89 spoke of the growing importance of digital literacy and tactile learning in the nursing field.

Alumni weekend attendees agreed nursing technology has changed for the better since they were students. Judith Krauss NUR ’70, a current professor at the Nursing School and its dean from 1985 to 1998, said innovation in all areas has been a main focus throughout the school’s 84-year history. The school, which maintains an enrollment of less than 300 students, was the first to offer a graduate entry program for students who had not studied nursing in college, she said. This program, known as Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing (GEPN), is open to students with any undergraduate major.

Jess Theorin NUR ’08, who specializes in Nurse Midwifery, said GEPN students study a broadly based foundation of topics required for all registered nurses during their first year. Students spend more than six hours a week in the hospital in clinical sessions, she said — and in order to complete their first year, they must enroll for summer classes that include a balance of seminar and clinical sessions.

After 11 continuous months of schooling, nursing students choose one of several clinical specialties, including Nurse-Midwifery, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health. John Powers, director of public affairs for the Nursing School, said many of the University’s programs for various specialties are ranked at least fifth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program is ranked number one nationwide, and the University’s Nursing School on whole ranks seventh in the nation.

Students are usually exposed to working in a hospital setting two weeks after they begin their formal schooling, Theorin said.

Elizabeth Sheets NUR ’09 said she is thankful for the extensive priming students are given before the clinical sessions, and she appreciates the hands-on teaching methods used by her teachers. Sheets, who just started her first year in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner specialty, said she enjoys the sharp focus of the program, even though it involves spending up to 30 hours a week in class and, like all specialities, an additional eight hours in clinical sessions. Hard work aside, she said it is nice to know there will be a vast array of career paths open to her upon graduation.

“Nursing is an incredible field, and it is definitely changing,” Sheets said. “It is very exciting to be in it right now.”

Students said reactions to the new technology used in the classroom — including clickers that allow teachers to poll their students during class, which have been used in undergraduate classes as well — has been largely positive.

“Clicker technology has actually dramatically changed my course for the better,” Krauss said. “It lets me have an actual discussion with a class even though there are 85 people in the room.”

Theorin said she considers herself especially lucky for having the opportunity to use patient robots such as “Harry,” and a more advanced model named “Noelle,” which can simulate giving birth.

Ramon Lavandero NUR ’79, currently an associate professor at the Indiana School of Nursing, said he values the way the University Nursing School practices innovation to prepare its students for any path they choose.

“Many of the nurses at Yale are being prepared to work outside of traditional hospital roles,” he said. “It shows how much more broadly into society and daily living nurses’ roles exist today.”

Theorin said even a midwife specialization offers a number of career choices. When she graduates in the spring, she said she will be able to choose between working in a hospital or a private practice known as a “birth center.”

Krauss also cited the growing popularity of the nonprofit sector among recent Nursing School graduates — a trend that ties back into the school’s mission of “better health care for all people.”

Sheets said nursing is a wonderful career path which more students should consider. Like many undergraduates, she said, she had little knowledge of the field when she began her studies. Theorin said nursing is the ideal route for someone who is interested in health and enjoys working with people.

“Advanced practice nursing is a wonderful career,” she said. “I have been really happy that I chose to do this.”

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