Authentic lab provides nursing students with realistic hospital experience

WCU nursing students fill the role of both patient and nurse in the simulation lab.

WCU nursing students fill the role of both patient and nurse in the simulation lab.

Simulation is often used in nursing programs to give students an idea of what actual patient interactions are like in a hospital.

It can come in various forms such as human-patient simulations, the use of manikins, virtual simulations, or role playing. Western Carolina University School of Nursing assistant professor David Wells has taken simulation to another level.

On the third floor of the Health and Human Sciences Building, Wells has created a simulation lab, known as Simulamen Laboratorii Regional Hospital. It is a room designed to resemble that of an actual hospital room in every way.

David Wells

David Wells

The lab was created by Wells last fall. It allows students a chance to emulate the experience of providing care in an acute setting. It provides complete integrated interaction where students participate as both nurse and patient. The room consists of patient barcodes that sync information with a computer system, as well as bedside monitors and IV lines.

“If it wouldn’t be in an actual hospital, I don’t want to use it,” Wells said.

Video recordings are taken of students working in the simulation lab. Wells said the recordings should look as if the students were actually being recorded in a hospital.

Second semester students use the lab for basic scenarios, while third semester students use more advanced, process-based situations. WCU also offers interdisciplinary education to physical therapy students, athletic trainers, and other disciplines.

Wells recently presented his work at a Southeastern Nursing Staff Education Symposium. What makes WCU’s simulation experience unique is its attention to detail from top-to-bottom towards making it as close to reality as possible.

With less opportunities for nursing undergraduates to work in actual hospital settings due to legal liability, and increased competition for clinical sites, and with the regional need for highly skilled nurses to provide care in areas with nursing shortages, WCU’s simulation lab is a critical training ground for students, Wells said.

Wells was inspired to create the lab from his community college days of working with manikins. He remembered the lack of reality present in their activities.

“You lose voice inflexion and facial expression, and you don’t learn about the nuances,” Wells said. “Why

Video recordings are made of students working in the lab.

Video recordings are made of students working in the lab.

simulate the human patient when you can have the real thing?”

That line of thinking led to Wells and WCU providing a completely genuine interaction. In areas where it was impossible to replicate exact circumstances, Wells adapted, such as using a synthetic arm equipped with rubber tubes that simulate veins for intravenous injections.

Medication (in this case mock meds) is stored, coded and accessed with a computer system similar to that of a hospital system. When necessary, complex and interactive manikins that resemble artificial intelligence are used as patients. The manikins are able to cry, talk and receive airway tubes. One model is even capable of simulating childbirth.

In order for the simulation lab to stay relevant, Wells makes sure to incorporate current research findings into the lab. Wells added that he aims to “keep pushing the boundaries of simulation and the immersion experience.”


Information in this story was provided by WCU graduate assistant Joshua Taylor.