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Dedicated education units turn nurses into teachers, students into nurses

shane miller

UConn nursing student Sarah Shane draws up a medication under the guidance of Ryan Miller, RN, on the Heart and Vascular Center Advanced Heart Failure/Stroke unit (Verdi 5 East). Miller is Shane’s clinical instructor as part of a Dedicated Education Unit pilot program at YNHH.

If experience is the best teacher, Michelle Morande is getting quite an education.

Just weeks into her clinical rotation on Yale New Haven Hospital’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit (SP 6-2), the University of Connecticut School of Nursing student has worked directly with a wide variety of patients – some for several days.

“This experience has helped me put the pieces together, especially being able to follow patients for a few days,” Morande said. “It has helped me see the whole picture.”

Morande is one of 18 UConn nursing students participating in a dedicated education unit (DEU) pilot program on SP 6-2, the Heart and Vascular Center Advanced Heart Failure/Stroke unit (Verdi 5 East) and Surgical Oncology (NP 15).

Developed in Australia in the 1990s, the DEU approach differs from traditional student nurse clinical rotations, in which students spend a few hours once a week on a hospital unit. Students’ university instructors teach and demonstrate different techniques and skills, with students acting more as observers.

On DEUs, hospital nurses serve as clinical instructors and are paired with nursing students for the entire 10-week rotation. Each student spends 20 hours a week on the unit, working full shifts with his or her nurse instructor. The nurse observes and guides the student, but allows him or her to perform various tasks.

“The students are participating in a hands-on assessment of a patient for an entire shift, so they can see the patient’s condition change,” said Kristin Bullock, RN, a nurse and clinical instructor on the Neuroscience ICU. “Students learn what they’re seeing, what’s being ordered for the patient and why. They have that ‘a-ha!’ moment.”

Students also get experience with time management, patient handoffs and interdisciplinary teams, said Kelly Poskus, RN, Neuroscience ICU patient service manager. DEU nurses receive special training to become clinical instructors, and work closely with UConn nursing school faculty, who still grade students.

“Initially staff were apprehensive about being the clinical instructors, but as time goes on they’ve become more comfortable,” said Cara Henderson, RN, patient service manager, NP 15. “The students feel as if they’re part of the staff, and they are committed to the patients and their outcomes.”

The DEU model benefits the hospital in a number of ways, said Judi Hahn, RN, director, Nursing Professional Practice and Education. Students provide an extra pair of hands and eyes, which enhances the safety and quality of care. Student nurses help keep YNHH clinical nurses up to date on current best practices. The model is a great tool for recruiting nurses, and can help with retention, because it aims to prevent burnout among new nurses by better preparing them for the job’s daily demands.

For Morande, the DEU experience has confirmed her career choice.

“This has made me want to be a nurse even more,” she said.