Federal grant expands online education, collaboration

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Students in nurse-midwifery, medicine and other health-related disciplines at East Carolina University will team up in a virtual clinic to improve women’s health through a $1.098 million federal grant awarded to the College of Nursing.

The three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration is the largest in the College of Nursing’s history, officials said.

Dr. Pamela Reis, assistant professor of nurse-midwifery education in the College of Nursing, is project director.

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Dr. Pamela Reis

Funding for the grant’s first year is $367,688, followed by a projected $361,123 in the second year and $369,374 in the third year.

The project aims to improve primary care of women through the lifespan by expanding an existing web-based Virtual Community Clinic Learning Environment, a format similar to the popular Second Life virtual world.

The college has operated the virtual clinic for six years for nurse practitioner students, and will expand its reach by creating case-based, health care scenarios for nurse-midwifery and third-year medical students to work together to solve, Reis said.

“Much like a simulation laboratory, this model presents students with decision-making opportunities to develop their clinical skills in a safe environment,” said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing.  “This project addresses our goals to use technology to enhance education.”

The College of Nursing has been a leader in distance education on campus, and since 2004 has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the largest distance education programs in the country.

A new online course will be developed about issues in women’s health in rural communities to incorporate the virtual clinic learning experiences for health sciences students.

Finally, the grant will help expand a Mini Business Institute that teaches skills that students need to build a successful health care practice.

The institute, a joint effort between the ECU College of Nursing and College of Business since 2005, will be offered for the first time to ECU obstetrics/gynecology and family medicine resident physicians, and interested students and faculty in the health sciences division.

“The health care profession is transforming from a discipline-based health care delivery model to a team-based model of care,” Reis said. “The vision of the future is collaborative practice.”

Fulfilling that vision requires the development of inter-professional competencies as part of the learning experience of health professions students, Reis said, so that they are prepared to work together when they graduate.

“Collaborative practice is essential in the delivery of safe, high quality, patient-centered care that ultimately results in quality patient outcomes,” Reis said.

A diverse advisory panel, consisting of faculty from nursing, medicine, bioethics and interdisciplinary studies, nutrition and dietetics, and social work will assist in project implementation and evaluation.

“The interdisciplinary strategies in this project will generate many exciting opportunities for research and collaboration between university units,” Brown said.

Project collaborators at ECU are Dr. Carol Ann King, clinical assistant professor of nursing; Dr. Cornelia Dewees, clinical assistant professor of nursing; Dr. Edward Newton, immediate past chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Brody School of Medicine; Dr. Heidi Bell, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and clinical clerkship director at BSOM; Jan Salstrom, clinical assistant professor at BSOM; Dr. William McDowell, assistant professor of management in the College of Business; and Yanhao Zhu and Kuan Chen, instructional technologists in the College of Nursing.

ECU offers the only nurse midwifery curriculum in North Carolina. A special intent is for graduates to assume care provider roles in rural areas to meet the needs of underserved women and infants. For more information, visit www.nursing.ecu.edu.