Sim City: Nurses in Learn in Real-Life Setting

May. 6, 2010

With the sounds and smells of a hospital assaulting their senses, nursing students learn from their mistakes in advanced training facility.

Still dressed in their scrubs, the nurses gathered to figure out what went wrong. The patient, 5-year-old Angel Calderon, had come in presenting symptoms of respiratory distress.

The nurses put on paper gowns and latex gloves but forgot their masks - a must when dealing with an unknown respiratory ailment. Their mistake puts their own health, and the health of everyone else in the hospital, at risk.

Various digital instruments of modern medicine spiked and beeped, signaling a drop in the level of oxygen in Angel's blood. A nurse tilted his head back to ease his breathing, a standard procedure. Still, Angel's levels kept falling.

"Why is he turning blue? Do something!" shouted Angel's mother. "You're supposed to be our nurses!"

This child, thankfully, was a mix of soft plastic and circuits. His mother a second-semester student, as were the other "nurses" in the room. Appearances aside, this scenario played out not in a hospital room but in the new 31,000-square-foot Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas. One of the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi, the center is located at UNLV's Shadow Lane campus in the heart of Las Vegas's medical district.

Nurses and Doctors Train Together

The center is a unique collaboration among the nursing schools at UNLV and Nevada State College and, more unusually, the University of Nevada School of Medicine. By training future nurses and doctors alongside each other, the facility's simulations will be all the more realistic.

The inspiration for the center came during a taxi ride Carolyn Yucha, UNLV's dean of nursing, shared with her Nevada State counterpart after a conference three and a half years ago. Both marveled about the simulation facilities elsewhere and lamented the struggle of funding one for Southern Nevada. Yucha looked up and asked, Why don't we do one together?

With the addition of the medical school, the project became a Nevada System of Higher Education priority. Having three institutions involved helped shelter the project from Nevada's budget woes. The state provided $14 million to remodel a space on the Shadow Lane campus. Then the project attracted the attention of The Lincy Foundation, which provided $3.2 million to purchase furnishings and top-of-the-line equipment. Additional equipment purchases came from federal appropriations.


Simulated Scenarios, Real Learning

Traditionally, nursing students learn theory in the classroom and receive practical training with real patients at a hospital while their instructors watch, prepared to step in if a student begins to make a mistake. This is morally necessary but educationally unfortunate. Mistakes are powerful teachers, as the nursing students who trained on "Angel Calderon" can attest. There's much still to learn.

- by Brendan Buhler (adapted from story that originally appeared in UNLV Magazine (link: , Spring 2010.