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Senior Volunteer Program Helps Students Refine Clinical Skills

A student nurse with a patientLocated on the fourth level of the General Hospital in University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the 20,000-square-foot Nursing Clinical Education Center (NCEC) includes an 11-room clinical simulation lab where students experience sophisticated and complex nursing care in a variety of specialty and clinical situations.

If you’ve ever toured the NCEC, you know “patients” of all makes and models live there. While NCEC simulated patients are very compliant and are highly valuable to hands-on clinical learning, communication and open dialog tends to be a bit one-sided.

A student nurse with a patientAbout a year ago, the lab course design team decided to boost the NCEC experience by adding a new type of simulated skills activity. Specifically, students were asked to explore their ability to be a teacher, and were tasked with teaching their patients specific information.

Creation of this new type of simulation was tremendously aided by the collaborative efforts of Joan Cook of Elder Services, Inc. (ESI). Cook is director of ESI’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)—a place where adults 55 years and older come together to make an impact on their community through volunteer work. One of the activities RSVP volunteers routinely participate in is playing the role of the patient for students of UI’s Carver College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy. RSVP and the College of Medicine have been partners for the Volunteer Patient program since 1997. Two years ago, the College of Nursing joined the program, with a total of 96 volunteers playing the role of a patient over two, one-week sessions.

nurse examining an old woman“The goal of this partnership was to provide opportunities to enhance communication for an evolving patient-centered system,” said Cook. “The students needed to practice skills in obtaining health history information, performing non-invasive health assessment skills and providing health education.”

This year, appropriately transpiring during National Volunteer Week (April 6-12), 64 RSVP volunteers will once again be paired with students who will complete a relevant health assessment. Each volunteer will then provide the student feedback on the interaction.

Even though the partnership is still in its infancy, Cook considers this College of Nursing/RSVP collaboration at NCEC a great success. And she even has some convincing statistical evidence to empirically validate it. According to an outcome survey of the students who participated in 2013:  

  • 98% reported that they agreed (63%) or strongly agreed (35%) that their knowledge of older adults’ health needs increased due to this experience   
  • 95% reported that they agreed (45%) or strongly agreed (50%) comfort level in working with older adults had improved due to this experience
  • 94% reported that they agreed (47%) or strongly agreed (47 %) that their interviewing skills had improved due to this experience 
  • 94% agreed (31%) or strongly agreed (63%) would recommend this experience for students in the future

nurse examining an old woman“Most undergraduate nursing students are under 25 years old and healthy. They learn equipment operation well but have little opportunity to practice history, assessment or health education skills on a person who has more life experience or health history,” added Cook. “The intergenerational experience helps nursing students gain confidence in communicating with clients while dispelling some myths about older adults.”

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Elder Services, Inc. provides programs, services, and resources to assist persons age 60 and over in Johnson county and east central Iowa to stay active, independent, and safe in their own homes. For more information, visit

Posted On: 
Apr 4th, 2014