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UNC Charlotte seeking solutions to nursing shortage by enhancing education for nursing students

The university is currently using lifelike robots called high-fidelity patient simulators.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina is predicted to have one of the largest nursing shortages in the United States in a matter of years. 

UNC Charlotte is seeking solutions to North Carolina's severe nursing shortage with a direct approach to tackle the problem, by enhancing the education for its nursing students.

The university is currently using lifelike robots called high-fidelity patient simulators. They create medical emergencies and train students for situations where they might not get a second chance. 

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“They kind of learn, OK, this is what to do, this is what not to do,” Melinda Pierce, who oversees the School of Nursing’s Simulation Lab at UNC Charlotte, said. 

While the patients are plastic, that doesn't mean they're lifeless. They have a pulse and can breathe, one can even simulate giving birth. Pierce says the university has about 15 of them. 

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“In the sim lab they can be the nurse, even though they’re not licensed to do so in the hospital," Pierce said. 

Credit: WCNC

Right now, our hospitals are facing what some call a growing national crisis.

“With the pandemic, older nurses left the field, they decided, 'OK it’s time to retire,'" Pierce said. "Post-pandemic we are inviting as many students as we possibly can to accommodate to come because the hospitals need them, the hospitals are suffering." 

To help alleviate that suffering, UNC Charlotte is investing in its students, by investing in top technology.

Last summer, the university purchased an Anatomage Table, which allows students to perform a 3D virtual dissection. UNC Charlotte is one of only five schools in the state that have one.  According to the university, there are fewer than 100 of these tables in the U.S. and only 300 in the world.

“We want them to make their mistakes here, before going into the hospital and it gives them that hands-on experience," UNC Charlotte simulation technician Ashton Atmore said.   

The education offers life-saving lessons for when it really counts. 

"You can’t put a price on how it makes you feel, that you’ve been able to lead someone into greater wellness or eliminate some of their suffering or hold someone’s hand while they die," Pierce said. 

UNC Charlotte currently has 224 undergraduate students: 54 RN to BSN, 55 MSN Systems Majors, 54 BSN to DNP nurse anesthesia students, 55 FNP and AGACNP students, and about 15 post-graduate NP students.

With the ongoing shortage of nurses, UNC Charlotte is working closely with clinical partners like Atrium Health and Novant Health. Specifically, the School of Nursing is actively working closely with Novant Health and CaroMont on mutually beneficial partnerships to enable the school to increase the nursing pipeline to those organizations. The university, along with other schools in the region, is in discussions with Atrium Health about similar ideas.

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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