A former Yankton health-care practitioner has received a unique grant opportunity to study how screen-based simulations can impact the education of nurse practitioners.
Brandi Pravecek, a clinical assistant professor for South Dakota State University (SDSU), said the Sentinel U Nursing Simulation Research Grant (SUNSRG) will provide the SDSU College of Nursing with in-kind access to Sentinel U’s Advanced Practice series for one year, saving the school thousands of dollars and creating the opportunity to review the software’s impact on student learning.
The software provides students with the opportunity to advance through an entire clinical encounter virtually — including the interview, the physical exam, establishing differential diagnoses, establishing a final diagnosis and developing a comprehensive plan of care.
The grant was awarded to three other universities worldwide, including the University of Central Florida, Bradley University in Illinois and Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
Pravecek, who practiced at Yankton’s Lewis & Clark Medical Clinic for seven years, currently teaches in the graduate program at the SDSU College of Nursing in Sioux Falls. In her career, the Scotland-area native has earned a doctorate of nursing practice, a certified nurse practitioner degree and is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She will be partnering with SDSU’s Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Program director and its Healthcare Simulation Center Director to implement the study.
“We’re very excited. It’s a great opportunity for SDSU College of Nursing and our advanced practice nursing programs,” Pravecek told the Press & Dakotan. “It’s an honor to be listed alongside large universities from across both the United States, as well as Australia.”
The plan is to implement the program this spring with the approximately 31 nurse practitioner students who will be starting their first clinical course, she said, noting that the students are already nurses who have gone back to school to become nurse practitioners.
“This (will be) the first time these students have been in any kind of advanced practice nursing clinical environment,” Pravecek said. “That will allow us to (learn) how prepared they feel after they’re in the traditional clinical environment compared to simulations.”
Training would typically include only the clinical environment and face-to-face instruction. It has only been in the last few years that virtual learning has been seriously examined in the educational world.
“That need or role when we think about simulation-based learning or screen-based learning with virtual simulations was really highlighted during the pandemic,” she said. “During COVID-19, academic settings — like colleges of nursing, across the entire United States — lost clinical access for our students, literally overnight.”
Without access to hospitals or other medical settings, nursing colleges were challenged to find ways to get advanced-degree nursing students the expected clinical experience they needed.
“Once virtual simulations were implemented in many settings, the evidence has shown that (they) can really be valuable learning opportunities,” Pravecek said. “Now, after the height of COVID, we are back in the clinical settings but we still deal with challenges related to clinical preceptor or mentor demand and the limited practice sites within a rural and frontier state like South Dakota.”
Often, in rural states like South Dakota, clinical sites and mentors can be limited and can involve great driving distances, she said, adding that anyone who lives in the Midwest can appreciate the challenges that climate can present when you need to go somewhere.
“If we can offset some of those challenges and burdens through the use of virtual simulation, and still get effective learning where students feel prepared for practice, it’s a win-win for us and our students,” Pravecek said.
Nursing colleges faced other challenges associated with placing students in clinical environments even before COVID, she said.
“The goal is not for virtual simulation to take the place of learning in the clinical setting,” Pravecek said. “But, if effective learning can occur in these simulation environments before students are in those real-world environments, if that better prepares students, then, certainly, that’s something that we want to proceed with.”
After experiencing the virtual simulations, students will be surveyed and will also share feedback in focus groups, she said.
“The findings have the potential to be important for other colleges of nursing with advanced practice programs,” Pravecek said. “Academic studies are seeking that evidence so, to say, ‘South Dakota State University did it and look at these results, look at what the students said about their learning and how they reflected on that,’ that evidence is so important.”
Pravecek said that having gotten her undergrad, graduate and doctoral degrees from SDSU has given her first-hand knowledge of the issues that her students may face.
“Think about the family practice setting, really being prepared to see patients grow through the entire continuum of life from newborn all the way to elderly — that whole lifespan,” she said. “The more exposure and opportunities we can give our students prior to becoming nurse practitioners, ultimately, that’s our goal.”