technology and nursing education
Engage Magazine Winter 2021

How Technology is Changing Nursing Education


Distance learning has become common for students at many schools and universities. For healthcare educators, this brings a mix of challenges and opportunities, including how to keep students engaged, how to handle clinical training when in-person visits aren’t possible, and how to make sure rural and low-income students stay connected when they don’t have access. UNITEK College, providers of nursing education, medical and dental assistant training in Northern California shared some of the ways technology has changed the landscape of their field today.

Bridging the Digital Divide

COVID-19 has highlighted the inequities many students face while digital learning. Moving classes to the Canvas platform and offering asynchronous sessions (so students can log on when it’s convenient) has been a helpful shift – of course not everyone owns a computer or has Internet access. According to UNITEK, only about a third of California households in rural areas today are subscribed to Internet service, compared with 78 percent in urban areas.

“When preparing and facilitating instruction, teachers would do well to remember that even in today’s increasingly connected society, not all students possess a smartphone, high-speed Internet, or a personal computer,” said Lou Cabuhat, Ed.D., Associate Dean of Allied Health at UNITEK. “Teachers must recognize that unconnected or under-connected adult learners face challenges maintaining regular attendance, engaging with content and classmates, and submitting assignments. As an educational leader, I have spent considerable time trying to understand how to leverage technology in ways that do not further amplify existing inequalities in access.” Cabuhat explained UNITEK offers computer technology to students during the enrollment process as well as information on obtaining free Internet from providers servicing their campus locations.

Filling the Gap with Simulation and Virtual Reality

vSim for Nursing is a platform used by educators at UNITEK that simulates real nursing scenarios, allowing students to interact with patients in a safe, realistic environment. “COVID-19 imposed interruptions in class schedules has created a backlog of hands-on clinical learning experiences,” said Cabuhat. For clinical trainings today, he shared, students and teachers are increasingly dependent on simulated learning using virtual environments. “Curriculum changes allowing for substitution of on-ground clinical lab hours with a clinical simulation, from dental assistant expanded specialties to medical assistant essential competencies, and helps prepare students for the clinical environment,” said Cabuhat. “At the same time, it also allows students to make up missed hours created by COVID-19. What we have learned is that simulation in allied health programs is beneficial in building an entry-level constituency of allied health care providers.”

Simulation mannequins have also been incorporated to assist in the training of nursing students. In addition, telehealth nursing has been used to help provide direct patient care. UNITEK explained that for the 75 percent clinical hours in the direct patient care requirement, the Board of Registered Nursing regulation does not specify that direct patient care must be completed in a face-to-face or a hospital setting. For example, the requirement may be met in a community or public health setting, as well as by utilizing telehealth and telephone triage with scripts. 

Non-direct patient care through simulation and case studies allows UNITEK College to supplement 50 percent of instruction for meeting California BRN requirements. Simulation can be low fidelity or high fidelity depending on the course objectives and requirements. 

Caring and compassion are two words that come to mind in how nurses should move forward in the future, says Stephanie R. Robinson, PhD., RN/Regional Associate Dean of BSN Programs in California. “There is such a need to care and truly deliver compassionate care to our patients who are struggling to get to a better health status.”

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