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Lab provides nursing students with realistic hospital experience

Simulation is often used in nursing programs to give students an idea of what actual patient interactions are like in a hospital.

It can come in various forms, such as human-patient simulations, the use of manikins, virtual simulations or role playing. Western Carolina University School of Nursing assistant professor David Wells has taken simulation to another level, his colleagues say.

On the third floor of WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building, Wells has created a simulation lab known as “Simulamen Laboratorii Regional Hospital.” It is designed to resemble an actual hospital room in every way, Wells said.

The lab was created by Wells last fall to allow students to become familiar with the experience of providing care in an acute setting, with students participating as both nurse and patient. Patient barcodes synchronize information with a computer system, bedside monitors and IV lines.

David Wells leads a classroom discussion.

David Wells leads a classroom discussion.

“If it wouldn’t be in an actual hospital, I don’t want to use it,” Wells said.

Video recordings are made of students working in the simulation lab. Second-semester students use the lab for basic scenarios, while third-semester students use more advanced, process-based situations.

Wells earned his master’s degree in nursing at Gardner-Webb University, and his master’s project included an evaluation of the effectiveness of simulation on skill integration. He still lists simulation effectiveness as one of his primary research interests.

Wells recently gave a presentation about his simulation project at a Southeastern Nursing Staff Education Symposium, and educators at that event reported being amazed by his creation.

With fewer opportunities for nursing undergraduates to work in actual hospital settings because of legal liability, increased competition for clinical sites and the regional need for highly skilled nurses to provide care in areas with nursing shortages, WCU’s simulation lab is a critical training ground for students, Wells said.

Wells said he was inspired to create the lab from his community college days of working with manikins, which are models of the human body. He remembers the lack of reality involved in that training.

WCU nursing students fill the role of both patient and nurse in the simulation lab.

WCU nursing students fill the role of both patient and nurse in the simulation lab.

“You lose voice inflexion and facial expression, and you don’t learn about the nuances,” Wells said. “Why simulate the human patient when you can have the real thing?”

In areas where it was impossible to replicate exact circumstances, Wells adapted, such as using a synthetic arm equipped with rubber tubes that simulate veins for intravenous injections.

Mock medications are stored, coded and accessed with a computer system similar to those used in hospital systems. When necessary, complex and interactive manikins that include artificial intelligence are used as patients. The manikins are able to cry, talk and receive airway tubes. One model is even capable of simulating childbirth.

In order for the simulation lab to stay relevant, Wells makes sure to incorporate current research findings into the lab. Wells said he aims to “keep pushing the boundaries of simulation and the immersion experience.”

For more information, contact Wells at 828-654-6522 or

Video recordings are made of students working in the lab.

Video recordings are made of students working in the lab.


Much of the information in this story was compiled by WCU graduate assistant Joshua Taylor.

Categories | The Reporter

Photos | WCU News Services

Commencement 2017
Commencement 2017


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