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KNOXVILLE — Eight students will graduate from the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, having received a richer, more intensive clinical experience this semester, thanks to a unique partnership with Parkwest Hospital in Knoxville.

UT Knoxville nursing students were the only nursing students to work on one unit of Parkwest Hospital. Most area hospitals have students from multiple nursing programs working as part of their required clinical experience. The dedicated educational unit (DEU) at Parkwest gave the UT nursing students a more hands-on clinical experience.

The students worked on the unit two at a time for 12-hour shifts. They were placed around the clock, seven days a week to maximize learning.

Allie Brown, the UT faculty member on the unit, explains that this arrangement not only benefits the students but the nursing staff as well.

“I have been on other units where in a five-day period, there were three different nursing schools with students,” Brown said. “It is very difficult for nurses to really know how to help students when they constantly shift from nursing program to program and even from beginning students to advanced students, all within a week. By having only one school on the entire unit, all levels of personnel are able to embrace the students and make the learning environment a more positive place.”

“Often, students will graduate and never have any idea of what happens on the night shift and many start out working nights,” Brown said. “By exposing them to alternate shifts before graduation, we are preparing them more for the real-world work environment they will encounter.”

Nursing senior Jeremy Mills agrees that this particular arrangement has been a great part of UT Knoxville’s nursing program.

“While I certainly had much experience in the hospital by this point, I still walked in nervous and unsure of my own skill set. The DEU changed everything for me,” Mills said. “By the end of the second DEU shift, I knew in my heart that I could definitely be a nurse.”

Clinical settings are fast-paced and demanding. “Having students all vying for the attention of single, occasionally over-extended nursing instructor can lead to a hectic day, especially considering that the average clinical day is only around six hours,” Mills said.

With longer shifts and more personal contact, the DEU provides a clearer picture of what it’s like to be nurse.

“The nursing student, for the first time, gets a true sense of what it means to work a 12-hour shift as a nurse,” Mills said. “The student starts with report, maintains total patient care throughout the day, and ends by giving report to the oncoming nurse. I had certainly never worked a 12-hour shift before the DEU, and this was the first time that I saw what it really means to work as a nurse in a hospital environment.”

Gary Ramsey, chair of the undergraduate program at the UT Knoxville College of Nursing agrees that the DEU experience is valuable.

“This level of exposure in the hospitals is more in-line with the realities that professional nurses face. Nurses in the profession may work at all hours, weekends and weekdays and for long shifts. Students do not get a taste of this in their normal clinical experiences. This partnership truly shows our students what being a professional nurse is like.”

The DEU learning model means that the college can educate a larger number of nurses in a better way, Ramsey said.

Staff on the unit agreed to collaborate with faculty to be preceptors, educators and clinical expert role models for the students. Staff were prepared for their teaching role through a one-day workshop provided by the College of Nursing to introduce the concept of the DEU, review the curriculum, clinical course content and expected clinical outcomes and explore teaching/learning strategies to facilitate clinical learning.

“This model of education means that we can increase the number of students in the program while utilizing the same number of faculty,” Ramsey said. “It’s more efficient, and it provides more personalized instruction needed to create an optimal learning environment for nursing students.”

Thanks to this experience, Mills not only has a better understand of the profession but has a job waiting for him after graduation.

“I fell in love with the unit almost immediately,” he said. “I’m excited beyond belief that I was able to get a position on the unit and look forward to assisting the future UT nursing students.”

DEU models are unique. Only one other nursing program in the southeast — UT Health Science Center — follows a similar model. The University of Portland was the first hospital in the country to employ this particular model, which UT Knoxville followed closely.

“These arrangements are so rare that there is not even much information and/or research about them,” Ramsey said. “That is why we are also using this as a case study and will be publishing research about the trends yielded from this learning model.”

For more information, please contact Gary Ramsey, chair undergraduate program, (865) 974-7623.

C O N T A C T :

Kristi Hintz, UT media relations, (khintz@utk.edu, 865-974-3993)

Gary Ramsey, College of Nursing, (gramsey1@utk.edu, 865-7623)