Teaching In-Demand Skills: How Healthcare Educators Are Engaging Today’s Students

Teaching In-Demand Skills: How Healthcare Educators Are Engaging Today’s Students

By Emily Kuhn, Communications Specialist for Realityworks, Inc.

This post was originally published in the October 2017 issue of ACTE’s Techniques magazine. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Healthcare educators are changing the way they teach patient care skills, and for good reason. U.S. demand for healthcare expected to grow twice as fast as the national economy in the next eight years, prompting concerns about unfulfilled healthcare jobs. What’s more, older Americans are retiring in droves; this 2018 study projects that within just a few decades, older people will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

As demand for nursing and geriatric care increases, so will the importance of using learning aids that truly engage new generations of healthcare students — students with shorter attention spans, better technical skills and a stronger desire for authentic, real-world learning experiences than their predecessors (Hawkins, 2015).

“Curriculum may not have changed, but students are definitely changing,” said Kasey Carlson, RN, MSN, M.Ed. A nursing faculty member and educational technologist at a Wisconsin college, Carlson was a registered nurse for six years and has taught in the healthcare field for more than 10. “We used to do a lot of textbook and lectures, with very little hands-on experience. When I went to school, we didn’t have a whole lot of technology; a standard mannequin was a brand-new concept to us. But now we are looking at a generation that has been brought up with multimedia and video games. They are more real-life focused. They remember more if they have an experience.”

Teaching Today’s Digital Natives

You may have heard the term “digital native” used to describe today’s students, most of whom were born after 1995 and are therefore members of “Generation Z.” They are considered digital natives because they grew up with technology, and have never known a world without media.

This means that the standard classroom model where an educator stands in front of the class and lectures just doesn’t work. Generation Z students want to be successful — in fact, the desire to change the world is a hallmark of this generation — but they will disengage with the discussion if they don’t feel connected or if they don’t see the relevance (Wotapka, 2017).

Generation Z students are accustomed to immediate feedback. Current technology enables them to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. The world is at their fingertips. Thus, these students are not satisfied simply hearing about a topic. They want to see it, touch it and feel it.

That’s why Miranda Kessler, RN-BSN, is using interactive tools like age simulation suits in her health occupations program at Nicholas County Career and Technical Education Center in West Virginia. Not only do her feedback-hungry students thrive when given opportunities to engage in active learning opportunities, but such activities can help them develop employability skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and attention to detail — skills that some hiring managers have found lacking in today’s students (Dishman, 2016).

In the two decades she has been helping 11th- and 12th-graders prepare to obtain their state nursing assistant certifications, Kessler has seen firsthand the way her students’ learning styles have changed, and she strives to incorporate interactive teaching tools like simulators as often as she can.

“Years ago, everything was done with paper and pencil. You read the book, did the worksheet, took a written test and moved on until you got through the material and it was time for clinicals,” said Kessler. “Now, technology is front and center. Anything that captures students’ attention and can get them excited and make them want to learn is welcome in my classroom. And ‘cool tools’ like simulators always keep my kids’ attention.”

Cool Tools for Engaging Generation Z

When Kessler saw literature for the RealCare Geriatric Simulator at an education conference, she went straight to her administrator to share the discovery.

“When I told my principal about the simulator and he saw how excited I was to implement it into my program, he bought in immediately,” recalled Kessler. “He was actually the first person to try it when it arrived! He was amazed by how it changed his normal, routine activities and made everything feel much more physically demanding.”

The Geriatric Simulator sensitivity suit allows students to experience a variety of age-related physical challenges. It includes a weighted vest, ankle weights, wrist weights, elbow restraints, knee restraints, gloves, a cervical collar and visual impairment glasses. When students try to accomplish tasks like walking around, opening pill bottles and buttoning shirts, they begin to understand the way physical challenges like decreased mobility, stooped posture, cataracts and glaucoma can affect daily life.

“I wanted to be able to teach my students to be more understanding and empathetic with the aging process once we made it into our clinical rotation at the local nursing home,” Kessler said of why she incorporated the simulator into her program. “I wanted them to understand why the residents moved so slowly and I wanted them to learn to be patient and kind while working with them.”

Bobby Scanlon is a nurse educator with Dove Healthcare in West Central Wisconsin. With over two decades of experience teaching geriatric care, she knows how important it is to teach her students empathy and compassion toward the elderly. Scanlon regularly emphasizes the interactions her students have with residents during clinicals and encourages them to observe and consider why residents behaved in certain ways.

However, those skills can be difficult to teach without giving students the chance to experience for themselves what their patients are going through. When Scanlon discovered the Geriatric Simulator, she didn’t hesitate to try it in her classroom – and saw immediate results.

“Change can be hard, but when I see something and it excites me, then I’m going to try to incorporate it in class as soon as possible,” said Scanlon. “With this simulator, students don’t need to wait until they get to the floor to see what’s happening with the residents – they can feel and experience it for themselves. And what’s more, it brings excitement into the classroom.”

The Geriatric Medication Management Kit is an interactive learning ad that enables students to experience a loss of tactile sensation and visual impairments while trying to manage multiple prescriptions. Like the Geriatric Simulator, it was created to help healthcare students understand the unique challenges so many elderly people face every day. Taking multiple medications is the norm for most older adults, after all; a 2017 study showed that 87% of seniors take more than a single prescription drug and almost 40% take 5 or more.

According to Carlson, tools like wearable simulators and interactive learning aids can help healthcare educators address employability skills like empathy and sensitivity toward the elderly.

“Empathy is one of the most difficult things to teach a student. It’s something students have to experience and grow themselves, versus being told to do it,” Carlson said. “The hands-on component allows students to think critically through a procedure, but also focus on the patient, and on professionalism.”

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2017, and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Ready to learn more about the tools and resources that are available for teaching empathy and geriatric sensitivity to today’s 21st Century healthcare students? Click here.

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