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Partnership Helps Nurses Learn to Care for Vets

nursing students sit around a table, talking

Emory School of Nursing students discuss therapeutic programming and communication with Atlanta VA Medical Center nursing staff.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, October 10, 2013

VA Atlanta and Emory University School of Nursing Benefit from Innovative Teaching Model

Almost 100 student nurses in Atlanta have gained a unique understanding of what a Veteran with mental health problems is going through.

As part of their training, they have worked closely with Veterans in a psychiatric unit as part of a new approach to prepare them for the real world of a nurse’s clinical practice.

VA and Emory University School of Nursing are partners in an innovative collaborative teaching model that has redefined the roles of clinical faculty at Emory and bedside registered nurses at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

The student nurses at Emory are assigned to a Dedicated Education Unit, a model that enhances clinical teaching of students through their engagement with an assigned clinical instructor, a VA staff nurse, who is supported by a member of the Emory clinical faculty.

Students in the program are paired with the same clinical instructor for their entire rotation. Each clinical instructor has two to three students who they mentor. In turn, Emory clinical faculty guide and support the clinical instructors as they develop expertise as educators.

 The Dedicated Education Unit…will yield positive outcomes for mental health patients. 

The student nurses are involved with all of the clinical instructor’s patients. This is in contrast to the traditional model of inpatient clinical rotations in which a university clinical faculty member is responsible for eight to 10 students, each of whom is assigned to one patient with limited staff nurse involvement with the student.

This VA-Emory teaching model is an educational approach that focuses on quality and safety initiatives as well as collaborative practice in a patient and family centered care environment while advancing clinical skills of students. It also fosters the development of staff nurses as educators with close mentoring by Emory clinical faculty.

In the fall of 2011, the Atlanta VAMC partnered with the Emory University School of Nursing to create a Dedicated Education Unit in the VA inpatient psychiatric unit, an innovative application of the model, which has been used nearly exclusively in medical-surgical inpatient units.

Ten staff nurses on the unit received two days of intensive training by Emory faculty for their role as a clinical instructor and continued to receive ongoing mentoring by the clinical faculty.

The concept has been well-received by students, who report that they appreciate the amount of time they are in contact with their instructor and with several patients on any given day.

As one student wrote, “I’ve changed my mind! I love the Dedicated Education Unit floors.”

And a VA nurse reflected on his experience, “I realized that I had something to contribute through my experiences working with psychiatric patients as well as my leadership skills.”

According to Dr. Sarah V. Myers, Associate Nurse Executive, Geriatrics/Mental Health, “The Dedicated Education Unit experience for nursing students is an investment in the future nursing workforce, which no doubt will yield positive outcomes for mental health patients. It affords an opportunity for student nurses to gain an understanding of and practice recovery skills to assist Veterans who have served in combat and non-combat experiences.”

Ninety-seven students have completed their clinical rotation in the innovative teaching model. Given the success of the program on the inpatient psychiatric unit, the model was expanded to include the Community Living Center at the Atlanta VAMC, also a non-traditional clinical setting.

Plans are underway to add additional units in other inpatient settings because this form of academic and service partnership can potentially bridge the gap between the roles of new graduate nurses as they transition into the professional practice role of registered nurse.

The Dedicated Education Unit can provide students with experiential learning while providing registerd nurse practitioners the opportunity for professional growth as clinical educators. Students, staff nurses and most importantly, patients, all benefit from this new approach.