Newswise — The one-two punch of social distancing and a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is giving Augustana’s nursing department a new challenge.

“Due to student safety and in an effort to conserve PPE for health care providers, Augustana nursing students are unable to complete clinical experiences for the remainder of the semester,” said Lynn White, chair of AU’s nursing department.

This is also true for other nursing programs nationally. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) issued interim guidance strongly recommending that medical students not be involved in any patient care activities unless there is a critical health care workforce need locally. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has recommended that student clinical placements that require the use of PPE be deferred.

With the help of generous funding from the Sheldon F. Reese Foundation, Augustana has added a virtual clinical simulation software package to support the nursing program clinical experiences through the end of the semester and into the summer. 

“The Sheldon Reese foundation learned of Augustana‘s nursing program's need for special assistance to allow graduation of this year’s nursing class. With the immediate medical emergency in our world, it was an easy decision for our board to make a one-time grant to Augustana University for this significant need,” said John Quello, president of the Sheldon Reese Foundation. “It is a difficult time for graduating seniors and we are happy that we can help them complete their nursing program. We also believe that the graduating nurses from Augustana University will make a significant difference in the lives of many people."

In the age of coronavirus, nursing staff are vital

AU’s nursing program has been advised by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing  and the South Dakota Board of Nursing to ensure that its students graduate on time, as they are vital to the workforce supply during the pandemic.

To ensure its nursing students graduate on time to aid in the potential staffing shortages due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, Augustana needed to replace clinical hours for students with virtual clinical simulation.

Many nursing programs in the country already use virtual clinical to replace in-person clinical hours as a standard part of their curriculum. 

According to White, “Augustana has not used this teaching method because students have had optimal clinical placements due to our strong relationships with clinical agencies in Sioux Falls.”

Donation provides simulation lab software

With the help of generous funding from the Sheldon F. Reese Foundation, Augustana has added a virtual clinical simulation software package to support the nursing program clinical experiences  through the end of the semester and into the summer. 

“Because the virtual simulation package uses the same platform that Augustana uses for standardized testing, students and faculty are already familiar with the platform, which decreases stress and anxiety during this already stressful time,” said White.

Faculty vetted several programs and this package was of the highest quality. 

Nursing faculty are integrating virtual clinical simulation into the following spring semester courses: Adult Health, Behavioral Health, Pediatrics and Maternal/Child Health. Virtual clinical experiences have three components: 

  • A preconference in which nursing students are given a patient report and access to the patient’s electronic chart.
  • A simulated clinical experience with integrated critical thinking questions and activities, as well as unfolding complications, new orders, and safety checks.
  • A debriefing, where students are able to reflect and discuss the clinical case they participated in with peers and faculty experts.  

White explained how the simulated clinical experiences would allow students to move theory into virtual practice. 

“We are being very intentional about integration, using pre- and post-activities, online discussions, student support, etc. to ensure that the learning objectives are met and remain of the high quality that Augustana Nursing is known for.” White said, “In addition to virtual clinical, we are also recording simulated scenarios in our lab, using video case studies and group discussions.”

Augustana anticipates using virtual clinical and its state-of-the-art simulation center in the Froiland Science Complex through the summer for its accelerated nursing students. 

“We purchased the platform for six months of use. If the pandemic extends further, we will need to purchase additional packages,” White added.