UNH builds simulation center to address healthcare worker shortages


Isabelle Curtis

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) recently announced the development of the College of Health and Human Services’ Health Sciences Simulation Center (HSSC). The simulation center will be located off Waterworks Road next to Gregg Hall. Construction has already begun and is set to be completed by August 2021. 

The over 20,000 square foot structure will include offices, classrooms and “fully equipped simulation labs that mimic hospital, clinic, primary care and other health care settings.” 

Michael Ferrara, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, stressed the importance of simulations for preparing students for the healthcare field as they allow students to “experience problem solving and skill development in a safe and supported environment,” and let faculty assess student performance to ensure they have the skills needed to graduate.  

The HSSC will also encourage interdisciplinary cooperation as students majoring in health and human services, including nursing, occupational therapy, athletic training and health sciences, will all have opportunities to work in the center and with each other during simulations.  

“[Interprofessional education] is more important now than ever, as new technologies and efficiencies are introduced into the healthcare environment and demand that healthcare professionals understand how they interact with each other to provide the best care possible,” said Ferrara. “It’s imperative that health care professionals from all disciplines have the knowledge and ability to coordinate a patient’s care plan so that the care provided is safe, equitable and high-quality.” 

A typical simulation experience will begin with a student, or a team of students, being given a report about the patient before entering the 20 – 30-minute scenario.  In the simulation room, the student will have access to health records, as well as all the medications and equipment to manage the unfolding scenario. A nurse will be able to control the high-fidelity mannequin’s voice and “physiologic parameters” in response to how students interact with it, according to Ferrara.  

Gene Harkless, associate professor and chair of the department of nursing, also explained that child, maternity, critical care and short-term (acute) care mannequins whose vitals can be changed, and different procedures can be performed on, will also be available to give students a full range of care experiences. Actors may also be used depending on the scenario. 

The simulations are recorded so students and faculty can review performance during the debriefing session. 

In addition to the simulation rooms, there will be labs where students can practice basic skills, such as suturing, inserting IVs and examining tissues (biopsies).   

The development of the HSCC is the result of the $9 million given to UNH in 2019 by New Hampshire to address the state’s healthcare worker shortage. According to a December 2018 survey, over 2,000 healthcare worker vacancies existed in hospitals and community mental health centers across New Hampshire. This situation has only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harkless credits the shortage to the shifts in the type of care available, such as the rise of at-home care, and the high level of medical skill required for many treatments. Another problem is New Hampshire’s rapidly aging population. It is estimated that by 2030 almost one-third of the state’s inhabitants will be over 65.

“We have an issue of trying to make sure that the workforce matches the demand,” explained Harkless.  

Nevertheless, the additional space the HSCC provides will allow the university to expand the nursing program with the goal to graduate about 130 nursing students from UNH per year.  

Harkless expressed excitement for the expansion of the program and asserted that there has been no shrinkage in enrolling students due to the pandemic. Rather, many UNH nursing students have gone out to help during COVID-19 as nursing assistants. 

“I think [the pandemic] really brought everyone together in order to meet our social mission to provide life-saving services and leadership during this time. Nurses, historically if you go back to Florence Nightingale, were the original infection control workforce, and we’re really proud of that heritage. We do stand on the shoulders of nurses who, over generations, have cared for those with infectious diseases,” said Harkless. 

Photo Courtesy of UNH Today