Simulation lab helps nurses train for real-life operating rooms

Nurses play a critical role in the operating room, and until now they’ve had on-the-job training at RWJBarnabas Health. But a new simulation training program is giving operating room nurses hands-on experience before they ever even see a patient.

“Before when we would teach, we would teach in classrooms. We would use the materials that we had, but always the evaluation was we want more OR [operating room] time, and we were always at the mercy of the OR schedule. In this way, our time is whenever we need it, and we will instill in them the best practices in a real life setting, get them with muscle memory to remember the ways to do it.” said Mary Koch, coordinator of perioperative education at RWJBarnabas Health. “Learning happens with reinforcement and repetition, and in here we can do things over and over again.”

The lab has both a male and female manikin. They’re able to simulate the many different complex circumstances that a nurse could encounter during surgery.

“They can breathe heavy, their heart rate can be adjusted, their eyes can blink. We can program them to have false urine and blood coming out of them so it gives them a realistic sensation of what it would be like,” said Koch. “It really gives us a limitless opportunity to contrive this model into a teachable unit for whatever we need to accomplish.”

Nurses are responsible for all the moving parts in the OR, and they need to know how to handle a range of procedures.

“The cases that we do, we could do something as small as an eyelid, to replacing your joints, to taking out your veins in your legs, doing laminectomies, back surgeries. There’s a myriad number of procedures that we do that we would want to educate them on,” Koch said.

The classes are recorded and played back for the nurses to see where they’ve done well and where they need to improve. Nancy Holecek was the visionary of the program.

“A simulation lab provides a nurturing and nonthreatening environment for our staff, our orientees to learn new skills, competencies and education,” said Hokeck, who serves as senior vice president of patient care services at RWJBarnabas Health. “In order to keep our OR pipeline refreshed and making sure that we have enough resources in order to provide the best care that we possibly can, it’s important that we have a place where we can recruit staff, train staff.”

“It can change in a heartbeat to a life and death situation for that patient,” said Koch. “There’s a lot of moving parts in surgery, and the nurse is really the linchpin that keeps that whole process going.”

The first class will start March 27 and will be a mix of new nurses and those coming from other specialties. They hope to have about 60 nurses come through the program in the first year.

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