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Student Nursing Experience 'Exceeds Expectations'

New Education Model Aims to Improve Care for Older Adults

UMass Lowell Image
In the back, from left, faculty lecturer Lea Dodge with students Sara Pietila, Shama Billmoria, Kristiana Demers and Kelly Brawley; front, from left, Mariana DeLazerda and Meagan Gillis.

By Karen Angelo

A new clinical-care education model is impacting the way students, faculty and staff learn and teach about gerontological nursing care. 

Nursing faculty, in partnership with D’Youville Life and Wellness Community, developed the new education model to incorporate the best practices of treating physical and mental health problems in older adults. They are sharing the model nationwide to tackle the issue of caring for a growing, aging population with multiple chronic illnesses. 

The nursing department was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to develop the “Transitional Care Dedicated Education Unit” with D’Youville. The unique model allows students to do rotations, with long-term care nurses serving as clinical teachers under UMass Lowell faculty direction. 

“The funding received for this innovative model is a testament to the efforts of UMass Lowell to provide real-world clinical experiences and outstanding learning opportunities for nursing students at all program levels,” says Nursing Chair Karen Devereaux Melillo. “This model is unique because UMass Lowell faculty are training staff nurses to be ‘clinical teachers,’” she says. “We are helping to enhance their teaching role and ensure the highest quality clinical experiences in the practicum for our students.” 

Lecturer Lea Dodge, who is overseeing the students and the staff training, notes that the new model allows for more one-on-one education in the clinical setting. 

“Because of the lower clinical teacher-to-student ratio, our students are immersed into a healthcare team which gives them a more hands-on realistic experience,” she says. 

Student Experiences ‘Exceed Expectations’ 

The new model is already in practice as six UMass Lowell nursing students work seven-week rotations at D’Youville. In March, a second group of students will perform rotations in the new D’Youville Center for Advanced Therapy, an intensive short-term rehabilitation center housed in a new 25,000-square-foot building. 

“I am so grateful for being able to participate in such an amazing clinical experience,” says nursing student Kristiana Demers. “Because this education model is only the second of its kind in the United States, I feel that my quality of education in the nursing program at UMass Lowell has exceeded my expectations. Working in this setting has completely changed my view of gerontology and it may be something I would like to specialize in during my future career as a nurse.” 

The rotation at D’Youville gives students more opportunities to directly care for patients. Nursing student Sara Pietila was able to provide full care for two to three patients each week instead of the one patient usually assigned during clinical. 

“Caring for two to three patients each week helped me improve my critical-thinking skills and prioritize care, helping me gain firsthand experience for the daily job responsibilities of nursing in the real world,” says Pietila. “It was truly an amazing experience and I loved having direct access to the staff nurse and practicing a variety of nursing skills, including caring for wounds, inserting catheters, administering medication, including IV meds and so much more.”