JMU Nursing School Finds Alternatives to Hands-On Learning

Apr 12, 2020

As educators across Virginia adjust to a state of emergency, some programs that rely on hands-on learning face particular challenges in transitioning to digital or remote instruction. The School of Nursing at James Madison University is using virtual clinicals for its nursing student seniors. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.

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Say you, as a nurse, have a patient in front of you who came into the emergency room with chest pain and shortness of breath. The pain subsides after they receive aspirin and nitroglycerin, and the patient appears stable – before suddenly entering into ventricular fibrillation. What do you do? Some JMU nursing students are parsing through these types of questions in a virtual clinical in order to graduate on time.

Melody Eaton is the head of JMU's School of Nursing.
Credit Courtesy of Melody Eaton

MELODY EATON: Our placements are all over, at every level. So we go from senior care facilities all the way up to acute care, and our final semester students really are all over the state at different units … some are in intensive care units … pediatrics, women’s health, community health …

Melody Eaton is the head of the School of Nursing. Typically, the students receive a combination of face-to-face interactions with clients and simulated scenarios in the classroom. The state of Virginia normally requires that at least half of their clinical practice be in person.

EATON: And they did waive that for our graduating seniors and students across the state so that students could graduate and enter the workforce sooner.

Eaton says that, while nothing quite replaces the experience of a face-to-face practicum, there are some advantages to simulated learning.

EATON: … sometimes better than an experience in a clinical setting where you don’t know what you’re going to get for the day. The virtual simulations … can target things that all students need to know.

These simulations will see the current nursing seniors through the end of their program, but there’s uncertainty about the future of nursing education amidst a pandemic. Eaton says JMU and other nursing schools may consider honoring voluntary service with academic credit, such as service with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps.

EATON: There’s also some caution, in that we really need to make sure that our students are meeting our student learning outcomes for each type of clinical setting we want them to be proficient in. And we also want to make sure our students are in a safe environment, and that our clients that they’re serving are in a safe environment.