A unique approach to nurse training: How ASU, Phoenix Children's are creating a more workforce-ready pediatric nurse

Many new graduate nurses enter the pediatrics specialty with little hands-on clinical experience. Phoenix Children's Hospital and Arizona State University in Tempe want to change that.

The two organizations have developed prelicensure and graduate-level programs to better prepare nurses for the pediatrics field. Their efforts include a dedicated education unit program, in which nursing students are partnered with Phoenix Children's nurses to gain more real-world clinical experience before graduation.

"There are dedicated education units across the country, but we think we're one of the first to tie that unit to a pediatric elective," said Julie Bowman, MSN, RN, senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Phoenix Children's.

Ms. Bowman and Judy Karshmer, dean and professor of Arizona State University's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, spoke with Becker's about the new dedicated education unit and how they're hoping to redefine pediatric nurse training.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What was the motivation behind creating the dedicated education unit program?

Julie Bowman: The traditional pediatric nurse coming out of the academic world is less prepared to care for children, since nurse training focuses largely on adult patients. Pieces of that training can transfer to the pediatric setting, but pediatrics deserves its own standalone curriculum and hands-on patient care time. When a newly graduated nurse comes to Phoenix Children's, we have to spend a fair amount of time on his or her orientation and training in the pediatric care setting.

Judy Karshmer: We work hard to provide nursing students with clinical experiences across all age ranges through simulations and real patient interactions. But nothing trumps the opportunity for a student to have an experience with a pediatric patient. If you don't have a robust academic practice partnership, which is the cornerstone of this ASU-Phoenix Children's hospital experience, the students have a very limited number of hours with this population. They don't feel comfortable in the environment; they don't feel part of the team. So, this program offers a very special and innovative approach to develop the work-ready pediatric nurse.

Q: What does the program entail for nursing students?

JB: Nursing students who come to our hospital through the new program are placed in what we call a dedicated education unit in their seventh semester. Students are partnered with a Phoenix Children's preceptor nurse who commits to working the same schedule as the students and is afforded an adjunct faculty opportunity with ASU.

The nursing students work with nurses on a full assignment so they can witness the ins and outs of a real patient care unit that is anchored in the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour work. They provide hands-on nursing care and are actually involved with medication administration, treatments and documentation as part of the elective. They are also an active part of rounding with the medical team, focused on concepts around time management and prioritization, and exposed to critical care.

Q: What benefits have you seen from the program?

JB: The program is intended to strengthen the foundation for a nurse choosing a career in pediatrics. We had the first group of students go through the program in January, and we received outstanding feedback. Students said they felt more like part of the team and anchored into the unit's work. They felt like their understanding of patients' needs was enhanced by partnering with a preceptor nurse. We also heard that nursing students felt more comfortable providing hands-on care because they practiced in a real care setting instead of in a simulated environment.

JK: In some states, students can graduate as a baccalaureate-prepared nurse, never having done clinicals with real pediatric patients. Some of my dean colleagues will say this is due to universities lacking access to pediatric clinical experiences. We are turning that notion on its head. The ASU-Phoenix Children's partnership is, in fact, infusing even more pediatric clinical experiences into nursing education. We want to make this the go-to place in the United States to prepare as a pediatric nurse.

Q: Any final thoughts?

JK: By the time a student nurse leaves ASU and gets his or her license and is offered an opportunity to work at PCH, they already have 200 clinical hours under their belt. Our goal is to push that number even higher while being cognizant of state and national curriculum requirements. Right now, the program is still a proof of concept, but we think we're building the foundation for what could translate into a national model.

JB: This is really a landmark approach to preparing new graduates, and we're in it for the long haul. We see this as a long-term relationship to not only prepare new graduates, but also advance nursing research and pediatric patient outcomes.

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