Last spring, colleges everywhere had to go to online learning models and the Alexandria Technical and Community College was no different. Even for those in the nursing program, which relies heavily on hands-on learning.

The nursing programs had to come up with different strategies for teaching, said Barb Lenarz, a nursing faculty member who teaches, does clinical coordination and liaison work.

Lenarz said that although the school was impacted by COVID-19 and the shutdowns, the nursing program has been fully operational since last fall, including students being able to do hands-on work at partnering health care facilities.

She said there was concern that the students wouldn’t be able to go into both Alomere Health in Alexandria and Glacial Ridge in Glenwood for clinicals, along with area nursing homes. However, that wasn’t the case.

“We were told they wanted our students and we were and are very grateful for that,” said Lenarz. “They get good hands-on experiences being in those settings.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

She did note that the students don’t work with COVID-19 patients, but that they still have been able to see what is happening at health care facilities during the pandemic and get to see how everything works.

Another advantage for students is the Nursing Simulation Learning Center that was opened at the college a couple of years ago. Students can learn hands-on skills with lifelike mannequins that can respond to the care/treatment they are given by the students.

There are rooms set up in the center that mirror a hospital room complete with electronic health record-keeping. Lenarz said one of the mannequins even simulates giving birth. The baby mannequin can even turn blue to simulate not getting enough oxygen. It will turn back to normal color when students administer oxygen properly.

There are nine mannequins in the hands-on teaching lab including pediatric up to elderly mannequins.

A couple of the rooms are quite high-tech and the mannequins are controlled by the nursing instructor who is next door in the control room. The teacher can see into the room and watch through the one-way mirrored glass and on the computer monitors as there are video cameras in the simulated hospital room.

Alexandria Technical and Community College nursing instructor Barb Lenarz stands in the control room of the Nursing Simulation Learning Center. Instructors can watch nursing students work on mannequin patients through the one-way mirror glass and on the computer monitor. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)
Alexandria Technical and Community College nursing instructor Barb Lenarz stands in the control room of the Nursing Simulation Learning Center. Instructors can watch nursing students work on mannequin patients through the one-way mirror glass and on the computer monitor. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

In addition, the teacher can be the voice of the patient so there is interaction between the nursing student and the mannequin. Nursing students can start IVs in the mannequins, check vital signs, listen to their chest and heart rhythms.

Lenarz said there are several different scenarios that can be played out, including a patient who is having an asthma attack. The student can hear how lungs sound when someone is having an asthma attack and then offer them treatment based on what they hear and see.

The rooms are set up with both audio and visual capabilities and the scenarios are recorded so the students and instructors can debrief afterward and talk about each situation so that the students can learn what works and what doesn’t.

The Nursing Simulation Learning Center is an invaluable tool for those in the nursing program and Lenarz said the college is fortunate to have it.

Both the practical nursing and the associate degree nursing program, which is what students take to prepare themselves for becoming a registered nurse, are on par as far as the number of students in each program, Lenarz said.

Each fall, there are 36 spaces for those taking the associate degree program. Then, in the fall and spring, there are 36 spaces for the practical nursing day program students and only in the fall, there are 24 spaces for practical nursing evening program students.