February 15, 2022
Ryan Gage
Illinois Medical District

UIC classes simulate clinical settings to reveal career’s practices and challenges

The Illinois Medical District (IMD), two miles west of the Chicago Loop, is one of the world’s top centers for healthcare technology. The 560-acre campus is home to four anchor hospitals and more than 40 innovative healthcare-related facilities. The College of Nursing at the University of Illinois Chicago constructed its main building in the heart of the district in the 1960s. Now UIC is training a new generation of nurses from a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory.

“When we have new students come in that are thinking about going to nursing school, we give them a tour of this brand new, beautiful space, the Schwartz Lab, and they can see that it’s really close to real life as the hospital, and they get excited,” said Dr. Susan Kilroy, director of the Clinical Learning Resource Center at UIC’s College of Nursing. “And we also stress to them that here at the UIC College of Nursing, we really craft simulations and cases and skills, so we prepare them before they go into the clinical setting, and we also let them know that they have plenty of time to come to the lab and practice.”

Teaching Pandemic Protocols

The nursing program is a pipeline for careers in the University of Illinois Hospital system and other Illinois Medical District institutions, including Rush University Medical Center, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

“Nurses play critical roles in the emergency room, the surgical theater and in ongoing patient care,” said Illinois Medical District Executive Director Allyson J. Hansen. “Forward-looking programs like the nursing lab maintain the Illinois Medical District’s excellence in medical care and clinical research.”

The M. Christine Schwartz Experiential Learning & Simulation Laboratory features suites devoted to medical and surgical practice and other vital clinical disciplines. Each semester, the 15,000-square-foot lab trains more than 1,000 student nurses across 13 different courses.

“The pandemic really forced us to work in small groups to think about things like personal protective equipment, cleaning, hand washing,” said Kilroy. “I often tell the students, ‘These are things Florence Nightingale had been talking about for years, and now we’re really learning them in real time.’”

Students can follow a diabetic patient from an exam in the emergency room, to admission into the intensive care unit, to an outpatient clinic. They can aid a new mother in the delivery room, then make a postpartum home visit.

“The pandemic has changed how I teach in the lab, in that I’ve had to become more flexible and I’ve had to become more adaptable to the needs of the students and to the needs of faculty,” said Katie Vanderzwan, clinical assistant professor at UIC’s College of Nursing. “A lot of the migration to a Zoom or an online platform had to occur at a rapid pace.”

The lab even captured the reality of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic as students interacted with medical actors over Zoom.

“It’s really something different for the students to have to learn how to do,” said Katie Stephens, visiting teaching associate at UIC’s College of Nursing. “They can’t do their normal head to toe assessment on a patient, looking at them head to toe. They actually have to ask more questions and instruct the patient how to do things on themselves.”

Training more nursing students at scale will be a critical response to the national nursing shortage — a shortage made only worse by COVID-19. Staff at the lab also has plans to open its doors to researchers, clinical practitioners, and other healthcare professionals from within the IMD community.

“We’re really fortunate to be part of the Illinois Medical District,” said Kilroy. “If you think about it, just in this small space, a few square miles, we have multiple universities and colleges, and you just think of all the knowledge and skills and resources we have.”

To learn more about the IMD, visit its website by clicking here.