Nursing students at Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J., are learning valuable skills from virtual patients.
The online virtual clinical simulation program at TESC, which includes avatars describing their health woes, helps students determine the symptoms, diagnoses and treatment for digital patients, which then can be applied to real-life practice.
“By participating in this type of program, my critical thinking skills have been greatly enhanced,” said nursing student Kacie Leigh Polidoro, MSN, BSN, RN.
“The skills I learned in this program benefit not only me, but also my patients, co-workers, and staff,” said Polidoro, who worked with the program in her advanced pathophysiology class. Other courses using the program, which was launched in 2013, are advanced pharmacology, advanced health assessment and public health nursing.
About 2,500 registered nurses enrolled in the BSN and MSN programs to learn to achieve better patient outcomes through the online course from the convenience of their homes, according to Filomela (Phyllis) Marshall, EdD, RN, CNE, dean of the W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing at TESC.
Students work with two different virtual patients: Joe, a senior citizen, and Sage, a 14 year-old girl. Sage, for example, tells students in the video: “My stomach hurts, I feel queasy and I’ve been throwing up for over the last two weeks.”
The program helps with clinical reasoning, decision-making and diagnostic reasoning, Marshall said. Students see a virtual patient with specific symptoms, then they are given a set of lab values “and they have to decide what’s wrong and what the nursing plan should be.”
“Students aren’t just sitting there at their computers at home reading,” Marshall said. “They are interacting. When a question comes up, you have to answer the question to be able to move on.”
Marshall said the virtual program helps students learn because “it’s much more visual. There is the auditory piece, and there are decision trees, you can go one way or another. It just engages them more in the learning experience.”
The simulation course is funded by several organizations including PNC Foundation, Investors Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Fred C. Rummel Foundation, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Provident Bank Foundation and the Roma Bank Community Foundation, according to a news release. Plans are underway to expand the virtual technology to more nursing courses.
“It’s expensive so we are doing a lot of grant writing,” Marshall said.
The college invested approximately $150,000 to create the virtual clinical simulation component for two courses, according to Marshall, and it also raised approximately $200,000 to develop additional virtual simulation experiences for other courses.
Students believe the program is worth the cost because the interactive experience enhances learning.
“This program allows students to be confident in their nursing skills so that when they are faced with real-life patient scenarios, students then have the knowledge and confidence to practice in a safe and competent manner,” Polidoro said.
The interactive course also appeals to nursing students with various levels of experience.
“I have been a nurse for many years and have worked as a school nurse, community nurse and child psychiatric nurse,” said Ida E. Biddle-Mayer, BSN, BA, RN. “I appreciated the virtual clinical environment because it gave me an opportunity to experience acute care and evaluate my critical thinking and knowledge base outside of my specialty. I am currently in the MSN nurse educator program and plan to do some work with the technology with my future nursing students.”