Becoming the clinical learning environment of choice

UCHealth hones partnership with schools, makes clinical experience process smoother for students, staff
Jan. 20, 2016

Health care students now have a streamlined process for getting their necessary clinical experience at UCHealth Northern Colorado.

The Clinical Education and Innovation Center (CEIC) at Water Valley in Windsor recently assumed responsibility for coordinating students’ UCHealth clinical experience in the northern region.

“UCHealth strives to be the employer of choice, but the new Student Placement Center [through the CEIC] will help us be the clinical learning environment of choice as well,” said Student Placement Coordinator Jennifer Higgins, RN, MSN, CNL.

As part of their education, students pursuing health care degrees or certifications — from licensed practical nurse to nurse practitioner to lab technician — enter into the health care setting to get required hands-on experience. Some arrive through college placement programs, and others, like those working toward a nurse practitioner degree, traditionally have found their own preceptor to complete their requirements. Until recently, this process was fragmented, with different people leading the programs at various UCHealth locations.

“By honing the partnership between UCHealth and the schools, we have created one entry point for all students [in northern Colorado],” Higgins said. “This provides a smoother process for the student, assures all legal requirements are met, strengthens communication between the students and their units and preceptors, and provides us a way to measure the impact and success of the program.”

From a student perspective

Nursing programs are among the most strenuous programs out there, Higgins explained. Not only is the course work demanding, but it also requires the student to practice in a clinical setting that involves complex cases and human outcomes. What those students don’t need is added stress trying to navigate the organizational details of their clinical experience.

That’s why UCHealth has streamlined the process, she added.

Students now enter through My Clinical Exchange, clinical experience management software that connects health care facilities with higher education organizations. From there, the program tracks necessary requirements, such as HIPAA and OSHA training and immunization records.

“[The clinical screening process] is almost like a mini pre-employment screening,” Higgins said. “There is a lot involved, and someone has to track all of that. We needed more structure to be sure we were compliant.”

Higgins and co-coordinator Jody DeStigter, MS, RN-BC, will follow each student through the program. They manage the approval of clinical schedules, suggest curricula and skill training based on feedback, and coordinate the initial orientation of the student into the unit.

Another benefit of My Clinical Exchange is being able to see who is training and where at any given time, which wasn’t the case before.

“We have a variety of students coming in for clinical experiences,” Higgins said. “Up until this point, there was no central coordination of the students at the northern Colorado hospitals. You could have a preceptor tell an NP student they could train on the unit, but then that same unit could have a cohort of six undergraduate nursing students. There was a huge variety of these types of circumstances happening, and they cause disruption on the unit. The students also lose the benefit of individual attention and mentoring while the preceptors feel overwhelmed.”

Being able to view a schedule of current clinical experience openings allows UCHealth to better accommodate student needs while ensuring the safety of patients and staff, she added.

These records help demonstrate UCHealth’s contributions to its community, which assists in grants, certifications and other recognition programs.

“On this type of platform we can get a true sense of how many hours we provide for students,” said Barb Ochsner, Magnet program director who, until the CEIC took over the program, coordinated clinical experiences at Medical Center of the Rockies (MCR). “I don’t think we’ve been capturing accurate numbers, and I think this will be a great tool.”

The process works slightly different across the system. UCHealth Metro Denver uses My Clinical Exchange as well but partners with the University of Colorado College of Nursing almost exclusively. UCHealth in Colorado Springs does not use My Clinical Exchange because its current system is working well, Higgins said.

Relief for staff

As part of their education, students seeking health care degrees or certifications, such as Hannah Scott, left, who is pursuing her BSN from the University of Colorado College of Nursing, enter into the health care setting to get required hands-on experience from a preceptor, such as UCHealth RN Robyn Pitney, right. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

“We needed to make sure there was an overseer for the students,” Ochsner said. “We ask staff to do a lot — taking students almost every day through the semester. This impacts their work as well as patients, and we want to make sure that we are doing this without overtaxing the nursing staff. This new process will help us see and understand that better.”

RN and preceptor Robyn Pitney, who works in the surgical intensive care unit at MCR, couldn’t agree more.

“Before, the student would send an email request, then the clinical educator, then the manager, and then you’d show up to work one day and it was like, ‘Surprise, you have a student,’” Pitney said. “This new system works really well.”

The student placement coordinators will be rounding on the students, addressing issues on the spot if necessary and getting a feel for how the program’s new structure is working. They will use that feedback to help steer the students’ experiences. They will also meet with preceptors and managers to prep them for the students’ arrival and provide any resources they may need.

“We want to think outside the box and be creative in how we plan their experiences,” Higgins said.

And student/teacher communication will be encouraged to occur before the student works the floor – much like a manager would meet with a new employee before he or she starts. As part of the orientation information, instructors have been given packets to share with their students that provide basic UCHealth information, including facility maps, rounding expectations and UCHealth Standards of Excellence, as well as badge cards with valuable clinical reminders — all in an effort to better integrate and prepare students for their experience.

“This socialization piece is important,” Higgins said. “How these students are received by their peers and the interaction they have with their preceptors greatly determines their clinical experience success.”

And that success is important to UCHealth.

“Providing these opportunities is part of UCHealth’s contribution to the community as a health care provider,” Higgins said. “We now have a more formalized program that will provide great deliverables.”


About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.