Some clad in street clothes and others in navy scrubs, University of Virginia School of Nursing students peer into one another’s ears, noses and throats, palpate one another’s livers, and listen for irregular heartbeats. Graduate students gently nudge central lines into pulsating, life-like chests just under the collarbone, and practice placing sutures across lacerations on pigs’ feet. Undergraduates don and doff protective gear as they learn the highly controlled entrance and exit procedures of an isolation unit.

From down the hall come the cries of a fevered baby with bronchiolitis. In another room, a huge variety of simulated body parts are catheterized, their wounds dressed and IV drips placed. One room over, Noelle, an expectant mother, is giving birth. Again.

After more than a year of coursework, students begin putting their nascent nursing skills to the test in the 9,200-square-foot Mary Morton Parsons Clinical Simulation Learning Center. The facility offers a starting point where nursing students can practice what they’ve learned in the classroom in a controlled, hands-on environment well before moving on to their clinical rotations and living human patients.

With the help of a wide variety of high-tech devices and scenarios, a phalanx of UVA nursing professors like Kathy Haugh, director of the “Sim Lab,” assert that the facility offers a great place to learn and a chance to make mistakes with impunity. In many cases, professors demonstrate skills before students try it themselves, sometimes on one another. In other cases, instructors devise patient scenarios using incredibly lifelike simulators, and students do their best to think on their feet, taking what they know and applying it to the situation.

“Given that we cannot instruct students for every eventuality and situation they’ll encounter,” Haugh said, “the simulation center gives students a chance to practice interventions, encourage creativity and facilitate their ability to critically think on their feet during high-fidelity simulations. And though neither the patients nor the situations are real, and there’s no risk, there’s no question that the experiences we offer are very realistic. And our students take them very seriously.”

In the maternal and child health simulation, students often experience their first birth. Using the high-fidelity patient Noelle, fully programmable to experience multiple complications with delivery (such as breech birth and postpartum hemorrhage) and to speak several languages, student teams are first filmed during Noelle’s delivery, while also being observed by peers and nursing faculty through one-way glass. After the session, students gather to debrief about what went right and identify areas for improvement, then have another chance to help deliver Noelle’s baby with their newfound knowledge.

Being able to repeat scenarios solidifies their learning, building confidence and competence while also promoting family-centered care and team-building.

“No two days are ever alike in the Sim Lab,” Haugh added, “which makes working there a joy for all.”

Media Contact

Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing