A New Era In Sim Education

Saint John Hospital and USM Collaborate for a New Nursing Lab

His real name is Apollo, but on an August morning, a team of health care providers call him John Smith.

At 9 a.m., he’s a 67-year-old veteran with a long history of chronic heart failure and lung disease. By the afternoon, he uses a different name and has new medical complaints.

This is typical of Apollo, though. He’s a chameleon of sorts and an essential component of the University of Saint Mary nursing education experience.

A high-fidelity mannequin, Apollo is capable of replicating a wide range of conditions that help student nurses navigate complex medical problems. He resides in Saint John Hospital, where USM’s nursing division has relocated its lab and simulation spaces.

High-Caliber Headquarters

In August, nursing faculty and students shifted their sim facility from its former home in Berchmans Hall to a newly envisioned space at Saint John – just a short walk from the USM main campus.

The location includes simulation and control rooms, health assessment rooms, and an area for post-simulation debriefing. It’s all designed to help students bridge learning from the classroom to patient care settings.

“Our simulation education program is created around the ability to be very hands on,” said Melanie Stroda, associate professor of nursing and simulation coordinator. “We all know that we get a vast amount of learning from making mistakes. Simulation lab education really allows that opportunity for students to make safe mistakes, spread their wings, and become more independent.”

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Instructors and peers observe a simulation in action

During simulation, both undergraduate and graduate students replicate a variety of bedside care scenarios and practice foundational nursing skills. This can be done with the help of mannequins like Apollo and the university’s birthing simulator, Victoria, or by working with hired actors known as standardized patients.

The complexity of these experiences allow students to think critically and have hands-on interactions in ways that feel both real and safe. Simulations also allow instructors to design patient conditions that students might not encounter in clinical settings.

Now within the walls of a hospital, the labs have only become more realistic.

“Our new space at Saint John makes the experience feel more real for students,” said Michelle Birdashaw, assistant professor of nursing and division chair. “It’s a cool concept. We’ve also had meetings to see how nurses at Saint John and its sister hospital, Providence Medical Center, can utilize our space for training. That’s one of the other visions for this space – to benefit both Saint Mary and Saint John.”

While in simulation, students work in a former operating suite, where the large overhead lights and ambiance are still intact. Students also work in exam rooms that resemble medical offices when practicing health assessments.

Deborah Udeh, a graduate assistant who helps run simulations, has already noticed how the new space has resonated with students.


USM nursing students assess the situation during a simulation

“Because it’s in a hospital environment, I think it gives them a greater sense of urgency,” the MSN family nurse practitioner student said. “It makes them realize that this is the real deal. Even though they are working on a mannequin, they realize they have to be more focused and professional. We’re turning out better nurses, people who are going to know what to do in the health care environment.”

Wide-Ranging Impact

This new space was made possible thanks to the vision of Saint John CEO Paula Ellis. Building off an already strong partnership, Ellis suggested that unused space in the hospital could be better utilized as an educational area for USM students as well as her staff.

Moving the simulation lab out of Berchmans Hall has also opened space for USM’s occupational therapy doctoral program.

“It’s a win-win for both organizations,” Ellis said. “We had space we weren’t using anymore at Saint John with the transfer of some services to our Pavilion, and the university needed space for expanding its program.”

A recent $150,000 donation will also further elevate the simulation experience. The generous gift will improve technology in the lab, including cloud-based software that will benefit both students and instructors.

“I feel like Saint Mary is the best of both worlds,” said Sylvia Gillis, U’17, and MSN family nurse practitioner student. “They are staying up to date with instruction. But at the same time, they still have a 1-on-1 approach where you don’t become a number. They individualize to the students and try to meet their needs.”

Dr. Michelle Birdashaw

“Simulation lab provides a safe environment where students can learn from their mistakes as opposed to at the bedside with real patients. Another benefit is we do not always have the opportunity for students to see a live birth or work with a specific high-risk population. Simulation allows us to create those high-risk experiences so students will be prepared if they go into those specialty areas upon graduation.”

– Michelle Birdashaw,assistant professor of nursing and division chair


Deborah Udeh, MSN family nurse practitioner student and graduate assistant

“It’s a great learning environment for students to better understand what they are doing when they get into the real world. I also like it as a GA because it helps me brush up on my skills, some skills that I haven’t used in a long time.”

– Deborah Udeh,
MSN family nurse practitioner student and graduate assistant


Melanie Stroda, associate professor of nursing and simulation coordinator
“This is the opportunity for everybody to develop their own style and know that they are going to have the ability to get better. I want everyone who walks into this area to know that we believe that you are here to do your best and this is an opportunity for you to expand, explore, and learn.”

– Melanie Stroda,associate professor of nursing and simulation coordinator


Sylvia Gillis, U’17, and MSN family nurse practitioner student
“Simulation experience is very important. Students need to be confident when they are actually working with a patient. I’m a hands-on learner. So you can tell me something all day long, but until I put my hands on it and do it, it’s not set in concrete. Students are also learning to collaborate and receive feedback in a safe environment. All of those things are important for building confidence.”

– Sylvia Gillis, U’17, and MSN family nurse practitioner student.

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