Innovative Nursing Lab Fosters Critical Thinking

OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University nursing faculty have developed an innovative way to educate future nurses that encourages students to hone their critical thinking skills.

Last year, WSU nursing faculty working at the Utah State University Cooperative Extension on the USU campus in Logan began a new approach to teaching the next generation of nurses.

“Nursing students traditionally learn skills in a step-by-step ‘cookbook fashion’ with an emphasis on how to do something,” said Charlotte Harris, assistant nursing professor at the Logan outreach location. “As a result, critical thinking regarding patient care usually occurs only after students enter the workforce.”

Now students are gaining nursing skills in a simulated laboratory setting, using realistic medical scenarios. The new format turns the nursing lab into a mini-hospital unit. Mannequins serve as patients, with actual names, medical histories, surgical wounds, intravenous fluids, and their own hospital rooms. This innovative method of instruction offers students a real-life context for the techniques they are being taught. In addition to learning and mastering numerous hands-on skills, students are also answering the critical question: Why am I performing these procedures?

A typical week for students begins with research they conduct on their “patient’s” status. In the process of creating a patient report, they are expected to think critically about the skills they are performing.

“The outcome of realistic practice is that students are better prepared for their professions,” said assistant nursing professor Jon Kelly. “They gain confidence in their skills and graduate with the knowledge and ability to be safe and effective nurses.”

The innovative lab experience is currently being used in WSU classes offered at the cooperative extension in Logan. Catherine Earl, chair of WSU’s Department of Nursing, says the new approach in Logan is comparable to the interdisciplinary approach faculty on the Ogden campus use to prepare nursing students for what they’ll encounter in the workplace.

“This lab is an excellent example of how our nursing faculty find new ways to prepare students to better meet the health care needs of patients around the state,” Earl said.

For more than 50 years, the Department of Nursing at Weber State has trained and educated nurses to meet the health care needs of Utah and the Intermountain West. As part of the Dr. Ezekiel R. Dumke College of Health Professions, the program has graduated more than 7,000 men and women who have gone on to practice as registered nurses in their communities. The program has developed and implemented an effective “career-ladder” approach to nursing education providing students with the option to earn a certificate as a practical nurse, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as a registered nurse.

A respected and successful distance and innovative online delivery model has allowed rural students to remain in their own communities during their education. Through this outreach program, the department has provided nursing education to virtually every community throughout the state. The WSU nursing faculty continues to pioneer new ways to better meet the health care needs of the region.

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Jon Kelly, assistant nursing professor
(435) 797-1519

Catherine Earl, nursing department chair
(801) 626-6833

John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
(801) 626-7212 •