For Karen Agyare and Danielle Ofori, both nursing students at the George Mason University's College of Nursing and Health Science, the timing could not be better.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 5, the college officially dedicated its new clinical labs, designed to simulate realistic hospital and health-care situations and provide hands-on experiences for the students. The students are three months away from graduation and were not expecting the labs to be open before they collected their diplomas.
"The larger labs help," Ofori said. "We didn't have enough space."
Ofori and Agyare were trying to study for exams in the expanded and updated computer lab while guests roamed the halls waiting for the dedication ceremony to start.
"The labs are better than what they use to be," Agyare said. "It feels like we're in a hospital."
Students have been using the labs since January.
THE RENOVATION and expansion project included enlarging the computer lab, which now has some CathSim computers, which allow students to practice putting in intravenous, or IV, needles and to draw blood. The program provides simulations of different types of patients ranging from babies to the elderly and reacts to the students' technique.
"It provides visual and tactile experience. There is full resistance [when the students insert the needle]," said Terri Guingab, the computer lab manager and a Mason nursing graduate. "It has the basic tools nurses actually use in a clinical setting. The nurses have to follow the proper procedure, pick the right gauge needle and the computer does react."
Guingab said the program is helpful because too often the students only have each other to practice on. The computer, by providing a variety of patients, gives the students the opportunity to practice under different conditions. For example, some patients have poor veins, others, such as the pediatric patients, begin screaming as soon as they are touched.
In addition to the CathSim computers, there are general lab computers which contain a large pool of questions and test strategies to help the students prepare for school and licensure exams. The computers can also be used for research and data analysis.
ONE FLOOR down from the computer lab is the clinical labs, named after Nina and John Toups of McLean, who provided a leadership gift that helped the university raise the $1 million needed to redo the existing clinical practice labs. John Toups is a past chairman of the Board of Trustees and is a George Mason University Foundation trustee emeritus. Nina Toups served on the university's Arts Gala Committee.
"The clinical labs provide nursing simulations and real-care practices," said Dr. P.J. Maddox, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Science. "Before nurses had to learn about things and their only exposure was practice courses at the hospital."
Maddox said the college graduates 120 nurses each year and has 90 nurses in the advanced program, which teaches the heath-care providers how to be teachers either in an academic or clinical setting.
Alan Merten, president of GMU, said the college has graduated 2,800 nurses over the last 10 years, with 80 percent remaining in the Northern Virginia area. The program was created in 1973.
The new labs were the vision of Rita Carty, former dean of the college, who said it took several years of planning, finding the space and raising the money.
"We needed a top-rate lab to learn. Our nurses were using a facility in a 1950s environment," Carty said. "It's like a dream come true to see this up-to-date facility and space and equipment. It will allow our students to achieve the best they can. Now they can spend time doing what they need to do."
The clinical labs — there are three separate rooms plus teaching space — has a total of 60 beds with working oxygen and suction ports and is wired to accommodate basic and intensive care patients including cardiac monitors, infusion pumps, automatic defibrillators and electronic patient records systems. The idea is to make the labs as close to a real hospital or health-care facility setting as possible. The renovation required the total gutting of the existing space, with the construction beginning last July.
"Before they told us how to do everything," said nursing student Philomena Ebo. "Now we get to see the equipment and use the equipment."
In 1973, the lab opened with 10 beds and only the basic medical equipment, including wall-mounted blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes and glass containers for cotton balls, bandages and tongue blades. The lab had modest upgrades in the mid-1980s and again in the late-1990s.