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Clinical training goes virtual for School of Nursing

Sallie Perdieu, a WCU nursing student from Morganton, tends to a "patient" in a virtual health care setting.

For nursing students, an important part of instruction is the hands-on, face-to face interaction with patients known as clinicals, typically performed at hospitals and other care facilities.

With precautions required during the current COVID-19 pandemic, that training at Western Carolina University's School of Nursing continues - albeit virtually - with Shadow Health software and cooperation with local health providers during this demanding time.

"We purchased the software package and provided access and made the necessary arrangements with our undergraduate nursing students as soon as we could," said Sharon Metcalfe, associate professor and interim director of WCU’s School of Nursing. "Staying on track for the accreditation process is essential and that means they are acquiring needed hours."

Shadow Health's digital clinical experiences allow students to practice the skills they need in a safe, standardized environment that is available from remote locations on a 24/7 basis.

Nursing students participating in the virtual clinicals have responded favorably, with comments ranging from “I believe one of my clinical strengths in person is therapeutic communication. That can be challenging through virtual clinical, but Shadow Health gives an avenue to 'educate' or 'empathize' and I try to utilize both when applicable," to "Shadow Health has given me a great opportunity to invest in some good assessment questions and skills, especially follow-up questions for things I wouldn’t have thought about.”

Another nursing student working toward completing the semester said "this program provided me with a realistic patient scenario, letting me practice assessment questions as well as assessment techniques on the virtual patient that I was caring for.”

The North Carolina Board of Nursing has approved alternate methods for nursing students to gain clinical experience while under Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order to "stay home, stay safe," including the online platform.

"The nursing licensure exam will remain the same," Metcalfe said. "So, there is a need for real-world settings and dealing with actual situations that Shadow Health delivers."

In 2019, the N.C. Board of Nursing reported that all graduates from WCU’s bachelor of science in nursing programs passed the National Council Licensure Examination, the standard licensure test for registered nurses, on their first attempt.

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