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New partnership provides students collaborative health care experience

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UNG nursing students Abigail Bourgeois, seated in front, and Alyssa Ahrens work with their nurse preceptor, Tiffany Allen, seated in back.

Some two-dozen nursing and physical therapy students are getting hands-on experience this spring through a pilot program at two north Georgia hospitals, plus urgent care and primary care facilities.

The partnership that provides clinical instruction for UNG students at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Gainesville and Lumpkin hospitals, as well as Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Urgent Care and Primary Care facilities, came at just the right time. Many opportunities were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program includes 10 Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students, 10 students in the Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in family nurse practitioner program, and five Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students.

The designated education unit (DEU) model pairs two UNG students with one clinical instructor, also known as a staff nurse preceptor, in most instances. This model helps students because, unlike a traditional clinical setting, they have the same preceptor every week. Working together, the students help each other and integrate real-world teamwork into their learning.

"We want to create a well-rounded student able to enter the current atmosphere with more confidence and a stronger knowledge base," Dr. Carolynn DeSandre, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions, said.

Mystical Evans, a master's degree nursing student, is grateful for the knowledge she has gained from her preceptor.

"I was nervous going into the rotation, but a phone call with my preceptor put my mind at ease. My preceptor was willing to take on students, and during COVID-19 this has been hard to find," Evans said. "She is also a great teacher, and I have learned so much from her just in the first month I have been with her."

Natalie Johnson, a senior BSN student from Douglasville, Georgia, said the consistency of the program has helped her build on her skills each week.

"It's a great way to continue to practice hands-on skills. The only way you're going to be able to learn things is if you're able to jump in and do them," Johnson said. "The DEU has helped improve the overall clinical experience."

DeSandre, who also is the faculty liaison for the master's degree nursing students taking part in the DEU, said the program draws NGHS clinical instructors who are eager to work with students. Weekly feedback among all participants ensures students meet their goals and preceptors know areas of focus.

Priscilla Kyle, a 1994 graduate and manager of professional development and competency for NGHS, said the program has allowed the health system's nurses to grow their expertise through teaching. Kyle, who earned an associate degree in nursing from UNG, said the DEU can also serve as a "long interview."

"It's a win-win," Kyle said. "We want to prepare the nursing students to perform in a challenging environment and also encourage them to come work with us."

UNG students and faculty agree that the peer mentorship aspect of putting two students together also reaps benefits.

"Each student brings different talents," DeSandre said. "There is even richer critical thinking. Their strengths and weaknesses work together. They can each take turns at leading."

Lea Ann Porter, a third-year DPT student from Gainesville, Georgia, has enjoyed the collaborative nature of the DEU, both in the groups and overall.

"It's a great way for the school to establish connections with the hospital and get more students in the hospital, especially at a time like COVID-19," Porter said.

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