St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf opens new, high-tech space for nursing program

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On a recent weekday morning, a team of nurses gathered around a patient in critical condition. The woman was about to give birth, and her blood pressure was spiking. The team quickly administered medication and monitored her fluctuating vital signs. By working through the challenges, they stabilized her condition.

Then Associate Professor of Nursing and Department Chair Susan Huehn emerged from a control room to talk to the team, a group of St. Olaf College nursing students, about what just happened and how they stabilized their patient, a computerized mannequin designed for health care education.

This high-tech patient simulation is one of the key features of the St. Olaf Nursing Department’s new 5,500 square foot space, which just opened a few weeks ago. The $805,000 facility features two simulation labs, a simulation control room, a multi-bed skills lab, and classrooms and debriefing rooms.

The new space improves inter-department collaboration and supports technology-driven curriculum — including the use of high-fidelity patient simulators. Students can practice on adult and infant medical mannequins that mimic neurological and physiological processes such as respiration, blood flow, muscle activity, eye movement, and skin response.

“The more realistic we can make the environment, the better the learning outcomes for our students,” Huehn says. “With these new simulation labs, we can control the state of the patient through the control room computer, and the mannequin responds to those states and also responds to student interventions. If a student administers the proper dose of a drug, for example, the vital signs and the symptoms will adjust.”

The Nursing Department’s new multi-bed skills lab features six hospital beds and four mannequins, a setup that helps students get familiar with working in multi-bed hospital wards.

The college’s new nursing program space is designed to mirror the structure and feel of an actual hospital environment. With a centralized desk, staffed by nursing students, and several simulation rooms, students can get a sense of what working in a health care facility will be like. Each of the simulation rooms contains a bed and the complete range of the technology seen in any hospital, including heart-rate monitors and oxygen concentrators. There is also a multi-bed skills lab that features six hospital beds and four additional mannequins. This helps students get familiar with working in multi-bed hospital wards.

The more realistic we can make the environment, the better the learning outcomes for our students.Associate Professor of Nursing and Department Chair Susan Huehn

The Nursing Department’s move, in the works since June 2018, was finalized in February, and students began using the space at the start of spring semester. The new facility is made possible in part by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. Support from St. Olaf alumni and friends of its nursing program also made the renovation possible.

About 165 Oles take nursing courses annually, and 24 majors graduate from the nursing program each spring. In 2017 and 2018, 100 percent of the graduating class passed the NCLEX licensing examination — only one other baccalaureate nursing program among 23 in Minnesota had the same success. Many St. Olaf nursing students had jobs well before commencement, and all were employed within six months of graduation.

A centralized nurses station is one of several features in the new St. Olaf nursing space that provides students with a sense of what working in a health care facility is like.

Increasingly, the health care industry is looking to hire nurses with a four-year degree, and the level of experiential learning that is offered at St. Olaf with this nursing simulation lab is rare in private colleges. And as a school that values civic engagement, all pre-health students at St. Olaf are encouraged to pursue community service opportunities.

“Our curriculum will continue to integrate an education of the whole person and foster lifelong learning and service,” says Associate Professor and Vice-Chair of Nursing Mary Beth Kuehn.

Our curriculum will continue to integrate an education of the whole person and foster lifelong learning and service.Associate Professor and Vice-Chair of Nursing Mary Beth Kuehn

The upgrade to the nursing department’s space widens the scope of possibilities for the department and its students, who rely heavily on clinical learning in a combination of urban and rural, public and private settings through partnerships with a variety of clinical agencies, ranging from Rice County Public Health and Northfield Hospital to Twin Cities hospitals like Abbott Northwestern, Hennepin County Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Simulations are a great resource for students to practice, and the new space offers students the resources they need to build confidence to address situations they may not always encounter in their clinical trials. The new technology is designed to get nursing students experience and make the whole of the in-class time as “real” as possible.

“In nursing education, it is so important that we simulate a real-life experience as closely possible, because we want students to practice in a safe environment and then we can give them feedback on their behavior. We want students to feel safe to make mistakes, so that the stakes aren’t so high when they’re with patients,” says Huehn.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For students, the technology has provided an invaluable learning tool.

“I think St. Olaf students will really benefit from a very realistic space that is high-tech and can simulate a hospital — an experience that they can then take into their clinicals and their work with actual patients,” says nursing student Lauren Rewers ’19.

This hands-on experience is woven into the liberal arts education that St. Olaf offers, which enables students to study a wide range of subjects and participate in extracurricular activities like music and athletics. This blend sets many St. Olaf nursing graduates up to undertake leadership positions in the profession.

“The health care profession needs people who can think broadly and deeply,” Huehn says. “A broad education prepares students to become discerning practitioners. That’s what we provide at St. Olaf, with a nursing program that is part of the liberal arts.”