SON students, VA nurses form unique partnershipPublished on Monday, February 25, 2019By: Kate RoyalsThe University of Mississippi School of Nursing will embark on a one-of-a-kind partnership with the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in March.The VA will host a dedicated education unit, or DEU, in its Intensive Care Unit for students in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Seven accelerated students will begin their training at the VA in March, making the University of Mississippi School of Nursing the only school in the state to have this partnership with the VA.Each student will be paired with a VA registered nurse and will work alongside them during their shifts, gaining 72 hours of experience in total. The RN will act as a clinical instructor to the student, working with faculty at the School of Nursing.NorthingtonThe clinical instructors “will be just like preceptors, but they have a little bit more responsibility because they’re actually in collaboration with the faculty,” Dr. Ladonna Northington, assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the School of Nursing, explained.The partnership will add to the variety of clinical experiences students receive during their time in the accelerated program. Currently students are completing faculty-led clinical experience at Select Specialty Hospital in Jackson, where they are working on medical-surgical floors in the hospital. They will later work with preceptors across UMMC’s campus.McElwainDr. Sharon McElwain, assistant professor of nursing, said the partnership with the VA will add to the variety of clinical experiences students receive over their time in the accelerated program, and it is her hope every accelerated student will be able to participate over the course of this year.“It is a great opportunity for nursing students to experience the work culture of a variety of facilities. Caring for our veterans and learning about issues that may be unique to this population is a definite benefit for the students,” said McElwain.Students will work alongside select nurses in the ICU, caring for patients who generally have recently had surgery.“So with that, they get to practice dressing changes, monitoring the heart system, any patient who may be on a ventilator and trach(eostomy) care, all the way down to personal hygiene … We don’t have nursing assistants in the ICU, so the nurses are providing total care,” said Kristi Kirkwood, clinical nurse leader at the VA, said. “Definitely those skills they learn in the sim(ulation) lab they will get to bring to the bedside.”The DEU will also benefit the VA, serving as a recruitment tool and giving the nurses who participate the opportunity to learn what students are learning in the classroom.“Nursing is always changing. We have nurses who have volunteered to be clinical instructors who have been nurses for 30-plus years,” Kirkwood said. “We’re hoping they benefit, too.”Kirkwood said their research into creating a DEU showed that often students wanted to stay on at the facility where they did their training. Kirkwood herself participated in a DEU as a student at a university hospital in Tennessee and went to work there after graduating.“It’s an opportunity to give back in the field of nursing and aid with the (nursing) faculty shortage,” said Kirkwood.Nursing students Sarah Jamison of Bay Springs and Jennifer Morris of Brandon are two of the seven accelerated students chosen to participate in the VA partnership. Both said they wanted the chance to work with veterans who had served the country.“I feel … we will gain exceptional firsthand experience in the various intensive care units while being able to help serve those who serve our country,” said Jamison.Morris said she is looking forward to learning new skills and networking with other nurses.The goal is to expand the DEU to involve more accelerated students and, one day, beyond the ICU into other parts of the hospital.“I am looking forward to continuing our partnership with the VA and hope that we can expand beyond the ICU in the future,” said McElwain.