Nursing program to get new state-of-the-art home in Regents Hall

St. Olaf Associate Professor of Nursing and Department Chair Mary Beth Kuehn with plans for her program’s new home inside Regents Hall. Gifts are supporting the project.

St. Olaf College’s Nursing Department will move into a state-of-the-art learning and simulation space inside Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. Renovation will begin this June and be complete next fall. Instruction in the facility will start in February 2019.

“Regents Hall offers us both the space and technical capacity we need to educate our nursing students,” says Associate Professor and Chair of Nursing Mary Beth Kuehn. “Nearly half of the prerequisite nursing courses are currently taught in Regents. Making Regents our new program home will better support collaboration with our science colleagues and provide us the space needed to provide the best education possible for our nursing students.”

A key feature of the 5,500 square foot renovation will be expanded space for simulation training with high-fidelity patient simulators. The $805,000 facility will feature two simulation labs — double its current space — along with a simulation control room, multi-bed skills lab, demonstration classroom, debriefing/testing rooms, and faculty and staff offices. It will occupy space that formerly housed the science library that is now part of Rolvaag Memorial Library.

“Regents Hall offers us both the space and technical capacity we need to educate our nursing students.”

Experiential learning is a critical part of a nursing education at St. Olaf. Traditionally nurses have gained most of their clinical experience working with providers in hospitals and other clinical settings. But as demand on providers grows and nursing enrollments expand, clinical placements are increasingly difficult to arrange. Newer risk protocols also limit patient exposure to students. In response, schools like St. Olaf are increasingly using simulation training. It’s a move that multiple studies support, including a landmark study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing that affirms up to 50 percent of traditional experiences can be replaced with simulation training.

“Working with simulators allows students to engage in more high-impact, realistic scenarios such as cardiac or respiratory arrest or drug overdose that may not be consistently available to students during their clinical experiences,” says Kuehn. “This expansion will allow all our nursing students to build experience in these critical scenarios — doing so will increase their confidence and clinical judgment for professional practice. We are excited for the possibilities this new facility will provide and grateful for the support that will make it possible.”

In simulation labs, students work with educator-controlled adult and neonatal patient simulators that mimic neurological and physiological processes such as respiration, blood flow, muscle activity, eye movement, and skin response. Training modules support St. Olaf’s curriculum and lead students through a variety of clinical experiences related to patient care.

“Working with simulators allows students to engage in more high-impact, realistic scenarios such as cardiac or respiratory arrest or drug overdose that may not be consistently available to students during their clinical experiences.”

Regents Hall is especially well-suited for simulation training and interdisciplinary collaboration. It supports major instrumentation, student-faculty research collaboration, and technology-rich instruction that keeps pace with emerging scientific discovery. The new nursing facilities will aid other pre-health students, often science majors, who frequent Regents too. The department is temporarily housed in Ytterboe Hall.

“While this renovation will expand our tools for teaching, St. Olaf’s holistic approach to nursing education remains unchanged,” says Kuehn. “Simulation training will supplement rather than replace clinical experiences we coordinate with a range of providers. Our curriculum will continue to integrate an education of the whole person and foster lifelong learning and service.”

The new facility is made possible in part by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. St. Olaf is working now to raise additional project support from alumni and friends of its nursing program.

About 165 Oles take nursing courses annually, and 24 majors graduate from the nursing program each spring. In 2017, 100 percent of the graduating class passed the NCLEX licensing examination — only one other baccalaureate program among 23 in Minnesota did the same. All Oles gained employment as entry-level professional nurses within six months.