How to Survive (And Even Thrive) in a Skills Lab
Hollis Forster, RNC-NP
We all know that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Nursing students who are taught nursing skills one year will lose some of those newly found skills over the summer vacation. Some experts say it only takes two weeks to begin losing dexterity for a new skill. So, many nursing programs run “skills labs” periodically to keep newly educated nurses proficient in the clinical tasks they need to know to function on the hospital floor. Actually, this little article is not only a pitch for how to get the most from these sessions, but to encourage you to ask for them if your school does not provide them for you.
Here are three ways these labs can benefit you and what you can get from them:
1. Continued proficiency of a skill you learned 3,4,6 months ago.
Let’s say there are 10 stations, for injections, foley catheter insertion, IV insertions, naso-gastric tube insertion, dressing changes, evaluation of the head trauma patient, evaluation of a fresh post-op patient, drawing up different meds, a general physical assessment and ear irrigation. Each station uses manikins, and real equipment.
And, let’s say the system is arranged so that the teachers who are with you act more as facilitators than “teachers,” helping you to determine the best way to approach a situation and encouraging you with open-ended questions and stimulating discussion about other types of patients with the same problem you are facing. This becomes a much less structured and pressured learning environment, one that will help you to learn without the fear of failure and in a relatively “risk free” environment.
If you are lucky enough to have this kind of a skills lab at your fingertips…take advantage. Work with the facilitator to discuss everything you can think of in relation to that skill put in front of you. When you get to a real situation, in a hospital, you will probably not be so lucky to have mentors like your teachers who can guide you to the right decisions about a patient.
This kind of lab will help you immensely to remember what you learned and freshen your skills for the hospital to come.
2. Learning from your peers.
The information for this article is taken from one published in the Journal for Nursing Education. It is titled, “Promoting Skill Building and Confidence in Freshman Nursing Students with a Skills-a-Thon,” by S. Roberts, PhD, RN, J. Vignato, MSN,RNC, J. Moore, MSN, RN, and C. Madden BSN, RN. This article has some wonderful ideas, one is to place senior nursing students at each of the skill stations. These senior students have had some coaching about how to interact with the freshman students and how to most effectively maintain the learning potential of the skills lab. Now you have peer helping peer. This environment encourages the low pressure, the camaraderie and perhaps, will enable the freshman to speak up, not be afraid to give their opinion for a situation and maybe learn something from a student just slightly more advanced than themselves.
3. Learning critical thinking.
Before you go out into the world of nursing, it is crucial you learn to apply all the book knowledge you have. With facilitators and peers helping through a skills lab like this, your ability to apply your knowledge will greatly increase. If you have the chance to participate in a learning environment like this, take advantage, be present and learn all you can. You will find out that you are not only brushing up on your skills, you are applying thinking skills, making decisions based on clinical information and making friends.