NDSU nursing students get hands-on experience in skills lab
Published January 2018
Nursing students wearing green scrubs gather in pairs around hospital beds, bags filled with intravenous fluids and tables filled with medical supplies.
The room, a nursing skills lab, looks like a large hospital triage center. The beds tilt up-and-down at the push of a button. Automatic hand-sanitizer stations are attached to the walls. A patient lift is mounted over each bed, and sliding curtains can be used to separate patients. The only giveaway that this is a teaching facility is that the patients are made of plastic and latex.
The skills lab is where future nurses practice and perfect technique. The large room in Sudro Hall is where teamwork and leadership are developed as students perform tasks they will do on the job.
At one bed, senior Gabriel Eronmosele talks his mannequin patient through simulated tracheostomy suctioning. He verbalizes every step before his classmate and partner in the training exercise closely listens for signs of airway trouble.
“Now I’m going to suction the area,” Eronmosele says, placing a tube into the throat opening.
“I’ll now check lung and heart sounds,” his classmate says before pausing to hear something through her stethoscope.
Nearby, students are spiking IV bags and priming IV tubing, inserting nasogastric tubes and practicing a sterile dressing changes on a patient’s arm. The mannequins never react, but instructors observe to make sure everything is done correctly.
“I feel like the hands-on experience I’ve received in the skills lab has equipped me to practice at the highest level possible,” said Eronmosele, from Abujan, Nigeria. “It’s given me the confidence to step into situations and not be afraid because I know what to do. The skills lab didn’t just give me a taste of what was to come, it is what is to come. It’s trained me to excel in a clinical setting.”
Focus on students, technique
The nursing skills lab can accommodate 12 to 14 students and seven hospital beds.
Students spend at least two hours a week honing various techniques in the instructor-guided lab. Instructors are always available to make sure students correctly perform tasks they’ve worked months to perfect and ask questions to reinforce classroom lessons.
The hands-on nature of the lab is critical for building confidence, creating good habits and practicing in a safe environment, said NDSU lecturer Kolby Schaeffer Fraase.
Instructors also encourage students to find their own nursing styles, using the strengths of their personalities and compassion in their work. Some of the future nurses are funny, some serious, some are a combination. But everyone leaves comfortable working with real patients in a real health care setting.
“The skills lab is a great place to really get to know your mentors,” said senior Jessica Kindseth of Bismarck, North Dakota. “We have a lot of great professors who get to know us very well and become friends. They help us become the best we can be. They are very impactful, and it helps us to be very successful in our practices.”
Teamwork and success
A student swabs a mannequin’s arm to prepare the area for an IV. She finds a vein and gently presses the needle into the rubber arm. She tapes the catheter down and applies a clear bandage to stabilize the IV line to the arm.
It looks like a one-person job. But it’s not. Other students, as well as instructors, are there for encouragement and help. Teamwork is a vital part of nursing, and nursing skills labs in Fargo and at the NDSU School of Nursing at Sanford Health in Bismarck create collaborative environments to learn and study.
“We really become a family,” Kindseth said of her nursing classmates. “You form really deep connections with each other because you spend so much time together. We help each other learn, we help each other grow. When we graduate, we know these friendships will last a lifetime.”
The NDSU School of Nursing is helping to fill a critical need in North Dakota. The North Dakota Board of Nursing’s annual report shows a sizable shortage of nurses, especially in rural areas of the state. The same trend is true across the United States.
Many graduates are open to staying in the state to work. From 2011-2016, about 90 percent of NDSU’s nursing graduates in Fargo and Bismarck said they intended to obtain their license in North Dakota.
“Our skills labs are the bridge between theory and practice,” said Alyssa Backes, assistant professor of practice in Bismarck. “Learning hands-on skills helps students feel as if they are closer to achieving their dream of becoming a registered nurse. And they become very excited to practice these skills in the lab before they actually perform them on a real patient in clinical.”