Nursing: Tradition Meets Technology

These days, the buzz in nursing education is technology. USA Today  recently asked whether technology has changed the content in our nation’s nursing schools. The answer is two-fold: technology provides new opportunities for nursing students and technology creates additional questions that must be answered.

East Carolina University’s College of Nursing is located in a modern, tech savvy building that has eight clinical laboratories for student practice. Each lab contains life-like manikins that can be programmed to replicate just about any condition from childbirth to heart attack. Students have the opportunity to practice new skills in a controlled, safe environment.

Today, most nursing students do not remember a time when computers were not part of their lives. The equipment in these labs mirrors the equipment in hospitals where new graduates will work. Even the software in the bedside computers is similar to the charting software in hospitals and medical offices around the country. Learning on the real thing gives today’s nursing students a leg up when they enter the workforce. As expected, millennial students excel using advanced technology, but does this make them better nurses?

Dr. Frances Eason, a longtime ECU Nursing professor, keeps her students grounded by teaching them how to care for their patients without depending on technology. Calculators are not allowed in her tests—she reasons that a patient can die in the amount of time it takes a nurse to find a calculator to figure a drug calculation or IV dosage. But, what about accuracy? She believes technology should be used only after students learn how to solve problems by clinical reasoning. Often, we rely on calculators but really do not know how to set up the calculations in the first place!

Many providers now use handheld computers to input patient data and to research diagnoses and medication. While students learn how to use these devices, we stress the importance of the credibility of the information they can access. Handhelds provide instant access to information, but students must learn how to distinguish between good and bad information.

Technology is certainly exciting and a huge asset in nursing education, but this advantage comes with strings. Students must be taught traditional nursing skills to be able to interpret and use the technology. And, they must learn to question the credibility and validity of the technology. For this, students will continue rely on a blend of critical thinking and technology.

–Dr. Sylvia T. Brown, Dean
College of Nursing