What higher ed can do if states close workforce development business partners

Laramie County Community College created detailed exception requests to use closed facilities and adopted mannequins in lieu of real patients
By: | June 22, 2020
Laramie County students are using nursing school mannequins since many hospitals are not accepting students on site, but many graduates are saying that the simulation mannequins have increased their engagement.A Laramie County Community College nursing student takes part in a patient simulation in the training lab of the Health Science Building. Michael Smith/LCCC

Laramie County Community College recently worked with local officials to receive special dispensation from the state of Wyoming so students could finish their workforce development training and courses in the health care industries during the COVID era.

During the early stages of the virus, the state released executive orders that shut down dental offices including a clinic at the Wyoming college, where students have to perform various procedures in order to finish their medical rotation. So school officials formed partnerships with county and state health officers to create detailed proposals and exception requests to roll back these state-mandated restrictions that would allow students to perform dental procedures on family members in these offices.

“We had to develop protocols that would be unique to these environments such as ensuring that students and patients maintained social distancing or limiting the number of people in each space while still allowing the intimate observations that are required in health care,” says President Joe Schaffer.

Simulation mannequins in nursing school

Nursing graduates faced a similar situation when hospitals and medical centers stopped accepting clinical rotations during the pandemic. The solution: Simulation mannequins. “Technology has advanced so much that we can create simulated environments that feel very real using mannequins, which can take on symptoms and behaviors,” says Schaffer. “As these mannequins take on symptoms, the student has to say what is happening and how they would address it.”

Some students say the nursing school mannequins have increased their engagement as opposed to working onsite. “If you are doing a medical rotation at a surgical unit, you are working with other nurses and clinical faculty who are very busy,” says Schaffer. “While there are benefits of seeing how these settings operate in the real world, the opportunity for students to have in-depth one-on-one conversations with faculty, let alone interacting with patients, is very limited.”

He continues, “If you go into a hospital during the pandemic, the minds of these health care workers are especially going to be elsewhere. But in a simulated environment, you have the opportunity to press pause, interact and talk through processes. You can’t really rewind the patient in a clinical setting.”

Based on these experiences, Schaffer believes both face-to-face interactions and nursing school mannequins will complement each other well in the classroom.

“Many students who have been displaced or had to return home want to focus on education that would give them more sustainable and stable careers, many of which are in the tech, medical and trade industries,” says Schaffer. “As we move forward, we have to think of how to reengage those students and increase their opportunities. It will be an interesting experiment in higher ed and will be something to watch.”

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