Nursing students work on a high-tech mannequin during Senior Simulation, an intensive experience in which students are tested on their nursing abilities through a series of patient care scenarios.

Graduate student Tiffany Stewart (left) and students William Christmas and Catherine Crain work on a high-tech mannequin during Senior Simulation, an intensive experience in which students are tested on their nursing abilities through a series of patient care scenarios.
Image Credit: Tim Whims

Fifty-six students crossed the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum during Clemson’s December commencement to receive their bachelor of science in nursing degrees.

But just before the end of their final semester, they crossed another important threshold on their way to becoming nursing professionals.

The students took part in Senior Simulation, an experience in which students were tested on their nursing abilities through a series of patient care scenarios in the school’s Clinical Learning and Research Center at Edwards Hall, which replicates a state-of-the-art hospital setting.

Their “patients” were the center’s high-tech mannequins programmed by professors to mimic medical symptoms, as well as student actors from Clemson’s theatre department who acted out scenarios. Students entered the simulations unaware of the situations they would face, said Jean Ellen Zavertnik, center director and School of Nursing lecturer.

During the three-hour experience, the students “treated” a psychiatric patient with acute paranoia, an older adult with a hip fracture and low hemoglobin, a person who sustained a neck injury in an automobile accident, a diabetic found in a mall bathroom, a prostitute with lower abdominal pain, and a diabetic with a lower leg wound.

“The scenarios reflected the health care issues the students will see first-hand after graduation – issues such as diabetes, obesity, psychiatric disorders and heart disease,” Zavertnik added.

As they cared for patients, they also had to ensure that they stayed safe and in their rooms, which posed a challenge in some scenarios. “The addition of students majoring in theatre who can illustrate those scenarios was valuable, because it showed how behavior issues can complicate the delivery of care,” Zavertnik said.

As students rotated into stations simulating a critical care unit, medical-surgical unit, and emergency room, they were evaluated by professors on nursing skills and patient management, and by fellow students on leadership, communication, self-confidence, adaptability and initiative, said Tracy Fasolino, assistant professor of nursing whose research areas include health care simulation.

The Senior Simulation has been part of Clemson’s nursing curriculum for the past three years. In addition to Zavertnik and Fasolino, faculty members who participated in the experience this fall were John Whitcomb, Wanda Taylor, Sheri Webster, Portia Botchway, Catherine Murton, Leslie Wagner, Lindsey Montjoy, Terry Busby, Mary Anne Wolthuis and Tracy Smith. Graduate students Tiffany Stewart and Elham Ebrahimi also assisted.

The culmination of the nursing program, Senior Simulation is one of the experiences that has solidified the School of Nursing’s standing as a top-notch preparer of nursing professionals.

“We are thrilled with the results of Senior Simulation,” said Rosanne Pruitt, director of the School of Nursing. “Students must think critically in very intense settings, and then are evaluated by faculty and peers. It is a wonderful capstone learning opportunity that has been well worth the effort invested by many School of Nursing faculty members.”

And this learning opportunity yields benefits for the students as they embark on life after graduation.

“We are hearing from our colleagues in the field that they love to hire Clemson graduates, not only because they have great nursing skills but also because they can think critically,” Fasolino said.

Watching the students in action during Senior Simulation, Fasolino had two words to say about the students’ performance, one that’s appropriate for the day after their graduation: “They’re ready.”