Every new campus-based Gator Nurse can recall the first time they stepped foot in the UF College of Nursing’s Thomas M. and Irene B. Kirbo Innovation and Learning Lab.
For most, it is an experience they will never forget.
Since the conclusion of its renovation in January 2021, the newly reopened lab has welcomed hundreds of Gator Nurses, who spent a combined 8,000 hours learning within its walls during its first spring semester alone. The space creates an environment that prepares nursing students and provides opportunities to learn skills, take risks and make mistakes all in a safe environment.
Held in the Kirbo Innovation and Learning Lab, “sim-labs” are mock experiences that BSN students at the College of Nursing participate in during their first few semesters. Some higher-level simulations are held outside the lab with patient actors, individuals hired by UF Health to simulate experiences faced by nurses at the bedside. “Skills,” which include health assessments and fundamental nursing techniques, are practiced within a larger space in the center of the lab.
The college uses simulation labs and skills training to help Gator Nurses gain much needed clinical experience before they enter the professional setting. According to Assistant Dean of Simulation Based Learning Jane Gannon, DNP, CNM, CHSE, these lessons are often the very first roles Gator Nurses assume as health care workers after joining the program.
“Simulation is like a ‘stepping-stone’ to the clinical world,” Gannon said. “Every skill that is practiced inside the lab — from starting IVs, drawing blood, reading vital signs and even interacting with patients — is a real learning experience for when students move to practicing in a hospital setting.”
Traditional simulations integrate skills in the acute care setting, including tracheostomies and wound care. But faculty remain dedicated to creating new, unique learning experiences for each student, which this year included a poverty simulation featuring a mock town to help Gator Nurses learn about the health challenges faced by low-income individuals.
Practice Makes Perfect
For some students, simulation is way to be introduced to nursing skills without the high stakes of being in a hospital. Accelerated BSN student Kira Bell remembers being overwhelmed with nerves the first time she entered the lab.
“I remember being a little nervous, as it was also our first on-campus meeting in the program. I soon forgot my nerves, however,” Bell said. “I think that for my future nursing career, one of the major takeaways I will have from sim lab is the rehearsal of remaining calm, assessing and then problem-solving during new or emergent patient situations,” she said.
There are no do-overs in a clinical setting, Bell said. For her, having the chance to stop, reflect and evaluate a mistake or even envision a better approach after completing a simulation during a debrief period — a time to gather as a group with instructors to discuss what went right and wrong — makes all the difference.
This year, Bell had the opportunity to participate in obstetrics and pediatric simulations. She now values the importance of communicating with a team and working collaboratively, something that she had not fully considered prior to her simulation experience.
“The best part about simulation is the ability to discuss and receive constructive feedback from our instructors,” Bell said. “I firmly believe that no amount of reading or assignments can replace the experiences we have in simulation and, subsequently, our clinical rotations.”
From Simulation to Duty
Gator Nursing Accelerated BSN student Angel Johnson already plans to carry forward the knowledge she has learned about end-of-life care into her career.
Following graduation, Johnson plans to be a hospice nurse. Her most impactful simulation so far during her time at the College of Nursing involved face-to-face with simulated patients during their final moments.
“The situation felt really real,” Johnson said. “Going through it like that helped me feel present in the moment and learn what information to ask, especially if one of my family members was going through the same thing.”
She and her fellow Gator Nurses facilitated end-of-life decision-making with patient actors, reviewed last directives and acted as caregivers throughout the simulation. According to Johnson, live feedback from patient actors not only helped her understand how to improve in real-time, but also humanized the experience.
Johnson has since encountered a patient in a similar situation during a clinical rotation and credits her time in the Kirbo Lab as the reason she was able to discover the confidence needed to take charge.
“Every nurse will deal with death during their career,” Johnson said. “That’s why it is so important for us to be prepared to truly hear and understand how patients wish to live out the remainder of their lives. We have a duty to help them make it happen.”