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Cizik School of Nursing Sim Lab upgrades will better accommodate nursing students’ clinical hours

Photo of simulation laboratory where nurses train on mannequins. (Photo by UTHealth)
High -tech mannequins show nurses what it's like to take care of real patients. (Photo by UTHealth)

The Simulation and Clinical Performance Laboratory (Sim Lab) at Cizik School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), expanded to include more than 27,000 total square feet, will help bring UTHealth to the forefront as a leader in educating exceptional clinically prepared nurses.

The expanded Sim Lab, occupying the 4th floor of Cizik School of Nursing, will accommodate nearly twice as many undergraduate and 70% more graduate students. Compared to its previous capacity, after all renovations are complete, the Sim Lab will be able to offer 600% more clinical hours in the skills and training rooms, 1,200% more hours in the flex rooms, and will increase hours in the standard patient exam rooms by 400%.

The improved space and equipment will be able to support learning experiences for 1,000 undergraduate students and 1,100 graduate students annually through its six high-fidelity simulation rooms, four debriefing rooms, 14 patient exam rooms, and audio-video control room.

The rooms will be modifiable to allow for experiences such as home health care, childbirth, and emergency medicine. Students will have the opportunity to become familiar with low-occurrence, high-acuity situations. Planners anticipate that the nursing school will be able to provide up to 40% of a nursing student’s clinical hours in the improved Sim Lab.

“Simulation creates a safe environment for students to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without risk to a patient,” said Sim Lab Director Eric Christensen, MBA. “Students can experience high-acuity, low-occurrence emergencies to learn the skills and assessment tools needed to care for these patients rather than learning on the job.”

The total price tag for the renovation project, which started in December 2018, is about $8.2 million to cover the cost of demolition, construction, and new equipment for the lab. Completion of the final phase is underway.

“We have come in under budget on several key portions of the project, so the final cost may be less,” Christensen said.

The original 16,000 square foot lab, a “marvel of state-of-the-art technology” in 2004, was designed for 600 students. Now, current student enrollment totals about 1,535. With enrollment increases, growing competition in the Texas Medical Center for clinical preceptorships, and a boom in technological improvements, the school needed to make enhancements to the simulation equipment and lab layout to meet current and future educational needs.

In the last fiscal year, the Sim Lab averaged 3,500 student visits per semester.

To help alleviate the high demand for more nurses, the Texas Board of Nursing has approved that high-quality simulation experiences can be substituted for up to 50% of traditional clinical hours across the pre-licensure nursing curriculum.

“Simulation allows the student to not only build mastery of specific skills, but it also builds confidence in the student that may otherwise take months of clinical practice to achieve,” observed Christensen.

Research has shown that simulation education improves patient outcomes, the critical thinking of the nurses, interdisciplinary teamwork, and communications within the health care team, leading to fewer medical errors.

The Sim Lab will be operational six days a week as staffing increases over the next couple of years. Plus, the upgraded Sim Lab will allow for continuing education opportunities for nurses already in the field, as well as interprofessional collaboration from other health care providers and researchers.

Instructors will be able to record simulations, checkoffs, meetings, training, and anything that happens in the lab. These videos will be observed in the lab at the time of recording, or through a secure link that can be viewed on demand by faculty at home or in their office at any time.

The faculty soon will have the ability to do simulation in a virtual reality environment. This will allow them to do simulation sessions with participants on another campus or across the world.


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