Dedicated Education Unit

Chris and Helena
Chris Rago, one of the first UConn DEU students, with Saint Francis Nurse Preceptor Helena Connors.

Before students arrive, Carla Patrick, MSN, RNC, invites five of her most experienced RNs to become DEU clinical instructors. She chooses the staff nurses based on their professionalism and their rapport with physicians and other clinicians.

The experienced nurses offer many advantages for their individual students and for nursing education as a whole. Perhaps most importantly, they have expanded Connecticut’s limited pool of nursing educators without abandoning their day jobs in patient care.

“There is a big shortage of nursing faculty, so this does help with that issue,’’ said Michele McKelvey, PhD, RN-BC, a nurse educator at Saint Francis who is involved in the DEU program.

Chris Rago, who graduated from UConn with a BSN in May, 2012, said his first day at Saint Francis was his toughest.  He was assigned to three patients: one with a chest tube, one who needed complex wound care, and two of the three suffering from uncontrolled pain. He felt well prepared to care for each patient’s medical issues. But the logistics were overwhelming.

“I was talking to the doctors, talking to the patients, calling the pharmacy,’’ he said. “It was the hardest day, organizationally. It forced me to plan my time.’’

Carla Patrick said she was a bit worried that using working nurses as clinical instructors might jeopardize patient care. But the result has been just the opposite. She said unit staff members, including physicians, have volunteered to assist teaching nurses and include students in interesting procedures that they might not otherwise see.

“It’s working better than I thought,’’ Patrick said.

Nursing executives at Saint Francis have said the students appeared to be so well-prepared that they hoped to recruit many of them for full-time nursing positions after graduation.

By the end of the semester, students assume responsibility for four or five patients on a shift, and often comment that they feel well-prepared to walk out of school and into a nursing career.

Nurses and students 

First Group - Five of the 10 UConn BSN students completing their clinical training on the DEU with their Saint Francis clinical instructors. Back Row (L-R): Cassandra

James-Johnson, Kim Giwa, Romina Sabando, Huong Nguyen, Carla Patrick, Helena Connors, with students Chris Rago and Nisha Wali. Front row (L-R) students Ilyssa Bain, Kimmie Cheng and Emily Roberge.