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Emory University’s new nursing learning center opens in Decatur

Students of all levels will use the new simulation lab to prepare for a variety of health scenarios. (Photo by Pam Auchmutey, courtesy of Emory University.)

By Hannah E. Jones

After a highly grueling and demanding three years in a pandemic, a recent survey of nurses showed that 34 percent of participants were very likely to quit their job by the end of the year. A local university is looking at ways to address the nursing shortage that’s felt locally and nationally.

On Sept. 16, Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing opened the doors to its new Emory Nursing Learning Center (ENLC) in downtown Decatur. Featuring a Simulation and Skills Lab as well as an Innovation Hub, the $20.6 million ENLC was created to better equip the university to train the next generation of nurses while combating the industry shortage.

While nurses are retiring or leaving the profession due to intense demands during the pandemic, there’s also a shortage of resources to train the next cohort of medical professionals due to a lack of sufficient faculty and clinical sites. Nearby universities, and beyond, are facing similar challenges.

“The nursing shortage, historically, has been cyclical,” ENLC Executive Director Beth Ann Swan said. “I’ve been a nurse for 40-plus years, and we’ve had shortages for a variety of reasons over time. But I’ll call it a chronic condition, not being able to have enough clinical sites or recruit enough faculty.” 

Each student is required to complete around 530 hours of clinical work and, to address the lack of available sites, each hour spent in the simulation lab accounts for two hours of clinical work. The university has 1,253 nursing students — 120 more than last year — and all will use the new facilities.

Students simulating an operation with a medical manikin. (Photo by Stephen Nowland, courtesy of Emory University.)

The simulation lab allows students to practice healthcare with medical manikins — a more articulated, anatomically correct version of the mannequins you’d see in stores — in a variety of settings, like at-home care, telehealth and operation/trauma. The lab has monitors, crash carts, scrub sinks and beds to practice both procedural skills and complex patient scenarios.

According to Swan, the ENLC is also the first to receive a special high-fidelity simulation manikin that operates with artificial intelligence. Nicknamed “Emory Hal,” the manikin can speak, move and simulate different health issues.

“When we would ask Emory Hal a question that wasn’t programmed, he could answer the question based on the vocabulary he built through artificial intelligence during [the previous] two days,” Swan said.

The ENLC’s Innovation Hub — with a pingpong table and virtual reality headset — is a space for students to relax, be creative and discuss ways to overcome barriers in their work.

“We’re all seeing it as the sky’s the limit and we’re going to let that happen organically, initially, and to see how people use that space,” Swan said.

There’s also space for the Emory Nursing Experience, offered in partnership with Emory Healthcare, to continue professional development for nurses.

Coming out of a global pandemic, the ENLC team has its sights set on the future, wanting to ensure that students are not only learning about the medical profession as it is today but also preparing for what could come.

“We have the opportunity to explore the unknown and the flexibility to say, ‘If something happened tomorrow, we’d be ready to change, adapt what we’re doing and the space we have,” Swan said. “We must prepare highly-skilled nurses to combat the nursing shortage, to be ready to care for individuals with complex health problems, no matter where they are.”

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


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