Roger is a 72-year-old retired tobacco farmer with diabetes and circulatory problems that cost him part of his left leg. His breathing is raspy, and a low-pitched rattling sound comes from his lungs.
On a bed beside him is Carl, a bespectacled 52-year-old accountant who has difficulty walking because of multiple sclerosis. His electrocardiogram’s spikes and dips show a rapid but steady heartbeat.
Then there is Joanne, across the room. Her husband recently lost his job and her part-time work as a supply teacher doesn’t pay the bills, particularly since her recent mastectomy.
Nursing student Rianna Longo takes Joanne’s blood pressure and medical history. Longo asks when pain at the incision began to get worse. She wipes beads of sweat from Joanne’s forehead.
This could be almost any clinical room in almost any health-care setting – and that’s precisely the point.
Roger, Carl and Joanne are mannequins, programmed to have a variety of ailments in a cutting-edge, 16-bed simulation suite at the new building that houses the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing.
The building’s official opening and public tours took place June 8 with a ribbon-cutting by Arthur and Sonia Labatt and Western President Amit Chakma.
The Labatts are long-time champions of – and donors to – health sciences education at Western University. They were awarded honorary doctorates in 2012 and Arthur Labatt was chancellor from 2004 to 2008. Both are well-known philanthropists whose volunteer work includes arts, culture, health care and environmental causes. The Arthur and Sonia Labatt Health Sciences Building nearby is named in their honour, as is the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing.
At the opening ceremony, Arthur Labatt praised the facilities and the nursing students who, he said, “have a special passion for their vocation.”
He thanked faculty, staff, administrators and students who have a continuing commitment to improving health care across Canada and around the world.
“The new building will ensure you have state-of-the-art equipment and can continue the good work that you do,” he said.
The four-storey facility features a spacious atrium, which is shared with students from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, who study in the adjacent wing of the building.
There are debriefing rooms, large classrooms, well-equipped labs and research facilities. There are lounge spaces, flex zones and study areas for group and individual work.
Come September, these areas will be bustling.
It’s also busy during the summer, as nursing students from the Compressed Time Frame BScN program are spending intense shifts in the simulation suite.
“Before this, we were doing assessments on each another,” said Longo.
“This simulation, it’s sort of real life, with (people with) complex health challenges,” classmate Niki Gleason said.
Students learn everything from blood transfusions to administering medication, mental-health issues to palliative care and changing dressings to managing strokes.
At each bedside, an electronic medication administration record (its programming created by a fourth-year student) ensures medications are administered in a safe environment.
“Before, they learned some of this in classrooms or maybe in a one-dimensional paper case study before their clinical placements,” said Barbara Sinclair, coordinator of simulated clinical education at the school.
The shifts also provide valuable training in inquiring, about and responding to, a range of physical and emotional stresses in patients’ lives.
“We try to focus on nurses’ communication skills,” Sinclair said. “The mannequins ask, ‘Am I going to be ok? Am I going to die?’ and for the students, it’s always about critical thinking, decision-making and communication. It’s not just about the task.”
The mannequins are so true-to-life they have a pulse and blood pressure. Some even blink their eyes.
Students also work with standardized patients – live people who have been trained to simulate patients with health issues – who are trained to ‘have’ stroke, dementia and other ailments.
“Students find it all very authentic, very realistic,” Sinclair said.
Associate professor Vicki Smye, director of Western’s nursing program, described the simulation suite and the other spaces where undergraduates, graduates and faculty work as “absolutely state-of-the-art.”
“It is a beautiful environment in which to learn and conduct research,” she said.
Students rave about the open spaces, proximity to professors’ offices, larger classrooms and especially the natural light.
“I love all the windows,” Longo said. “We were in the basement before, so this is so much better.”
Smye added the combination of facilities, research, leadership, information management, communication and innovation makes this program unique in the country.
“We are preparing students not only for practical skills they will need, but equipping them for the comprehensive layers of problem-solving, critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making that are required components of nurses’ daily roles,” Smye said.
The nursing program is almost a century old and was one of Canada’s first university-based nursing schools.
“Our nursing program is one of the most sought-after programs on campus,” Chakma said.
This facility places students closer to colleagues at the nearby Arthur and Sonia Labatt Health Sciences Building, which includes closely aligned programs in health and rehabilitation sciences, communication sciences and disorders, health studies, kinesiology, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Health Sciences Dean Jayne Garland said health sciences graduates are renowned for their scholarship and professionalism and these facilities will build on that legacy to help transform nursing care in Canada and around the world.
“Buildings, by themselves, don’t make a school excellent. But great buildings can cultivate excellence as they become fertile fields where outstanding research, teaching and scholarship can continue to flourish.”